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Florida's hacker connections

The Sunshine State boasts a long and varied track record of computer hacking and phone phreaking. Here are just a few highlights.

He had an ear for it

To Joe Engressia, his gift of perfect pitch offered up far more than musical promise. With it, the blind University of South Florida student learned he could make free long-distance phone calls.

A mathematics student at USF in the late 1960s, Engressia found he could whistle into a pay telephone the precise pitch -- the 2600-cycle note, close to a high A -- that would trip phone circuits and allow him to make long-distance calls at no cost.

That talent earned the Tampa student the nickname "The Whistler" and a place in history. A 1971 Esquire magazine article crowned him as one of the granddaddies of telephone hacking, known as "phone phreaking."

Engressia once even called around the world (for free) and talked to himself on a second telephone. "It took eight seconds," the Miami native said. But his hobby eventually came to USF's attention and, encouraged by the local phone company, he was disciplined by the university.

Engressia moved to Tennessee, where law enforcement officials raided his home, confiscated his equipment and refused to let him have a telephone. He received a suspended sentence. That ended his days as a phone phreaker.

Engressia didn't become a math professor or an electronics engineer. Instead, he wound up studying scriptures and philosophy and got a ministerial certificate from what he called a "community of spiritual seekers" in Florida. Now in his late 40s, Engressia lives in Minneapolis. He has legally changed his name to Joybubbles.

Engressia, who survives on his Social Security disability pension, says he took the name and decided to remain a child. He spends most of his time with kids, sharing children's songs and poems. He spreads his vision -- how else? -- by telephone.

Enter the Fry Guy

Callers on June 13, 1989, to the Palm Beach County Probation Department found themselves instead chatting with a phone-sex worker named "Tina" in New York state. Calls had been rerouted, at no extra charge to the user, to a pornographic phone-sex hot line hundreds of miles away.

While this prank amused many in phone phreaker circles, and was even highlighted in the fall 1989 issue of the hacker magazine 2600, it was no joke to the telephone company. For apparently the first time, someone had broken into the switching station of Southern Bell (now BellSouth) and reprogramed it.

In July 1989, the hacker behind the "Tina" switch -- a 16-year-old in Elmwood, Ind. -- was arrested by the Secret Service and the Chicago Computer Fraud and Abuse Task Force.

The teen's hacker handle was "Fry Guy." He earned the name by hacking into a local McDonald's computer and giving raises to his hamburger-flipping friends. Among his other exploits: stealing credit card numbers and scamming Western Union to wire him cash. Fry Guy was charged with 11 counts of computer fraud, unauthorized computer access and wire fraud. He was sentenced to 44 months' probation and 400 hours of community service.

The Florida Supreme Court itself

A Florida appeals court judge was more than a little unsettled in October 1996 when he called up the Web site of the Florida Supreme Court and found hard-core pornographic photos. "It was shocking," said 1st District Court of Appeals Judge Charles Kahn Jr. Court officials shut down their Internet connection and moved the court's home page to another site.

No court records were affected, but the Florida Department of Law Enforcement began an investigation that is still under way. After tracing the hacker to Chicago, the trail led to an Internet service provider in Ohio with a history of being compromised by hackers, FDLE spokeswoman Mandy Wettstein said.

The FDLE concedes the hacker could be anywhere. "That's the tricky part of tracking hackers," Wettstein said. The inquiry is now in the hands of the FBI, which declined to comment.

Online extortion

Miami's Icanet, a company that designed Internet sites for public schools, was threatened in 1996 by an extortionist in Germany. The deal: If Icanet agreed to buy his computer security program for $30,000, the hacker would not devastate the company's computers.

Icanet, a family-run business, contacted federal investigators. In April, Andy Hendrata, a 27-year-old Indonesian computer science student in Germany, was convicted of computer sabotage and attempted extortion. He received a one-year suspended sentence and was fined $1,500.

Icanet president Robert Hurwitz declined to confirm reports that the break-in cost the company as much as $100,000. But he acknowledged it was a "substantial financial loss."

Frontal assault on Free-Net

In January, Tallahassee's Free-Net came under attack by a hacker who deleted personal menus, e-mail, system files, home pages and the Free-Net's Web pages and menus, as well as an estimated 5,000 user home directories.

David McMurtrey, executive director for Free-Net, learned of the attack when he was unable to log on with his personal password.

-- This report contains information from the Associated Press.


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