Traders software warez
For the Inner Circle, cracking software is a challenge. For the wannabe underground, collecting it is an obsession. For the software industry, it's a billion-dollar nightmare.
Sunday morning, 7 a. Mad Hatter gets up, has a glass of Seagram's Ginger Ale and a cigarette, and checks his machine, which has been running automated scripts all night. He looks for errors and then reads his email. He has 30 messages from all over the world: After a quick espresso and another cigarette, he surveys the contents of a few private FTP sites, filters through a bunch of new files, and then reroutes the good stuff to his newsreader.
After breakfast with the family, another wave of automated scripts kicks in. The ISDN connection hums to life. A steady stream of bytes departs his machine Kbps and vanishes into the ether. By the end of the day Mad Hatter, a ringleader of the software piracy group called the Inner Circle, will have poured Mbytes of illegal "warez" onto the Internet.
Monday morning, 9 a. Phil arrives for work in Bracknell, England, in a suit and tie, just back from a few days in Switzerland. Inside Novell UK's glossy five-story headquarters, he lets himself into his office. It looks like a mad, bad bedroom - shiny desktops and derelict ones, disemboweled minitowers and battered servers, every last expansion slot distended with DAT machines, CD-ROM burners, extra hard drives.
A metal shelf unit contains a rack of monitors, some video equipment, spare keyboards. Everything is wired insanely to a single ISDN line. After a coffee, Phil boots up and skims his email.
Twenty minutes later he has ceased to be Phil. For the next week, he will pretend to be a trader, a courier, a cracker, a newbie, a lamer, a lurker, a leecher. He is an undercover Internet detective, a "technical investigator. This is a story about a universe with two parallel, overlapping worlds.
One is the familiar, dull world of the software industry, with its development costs, marketing teams, profit, and loss. Phil's world, at least part of the day. And then there is warez world, the Mad Hatter's world, a strange place of IRC channels and Usenet groups, of thrills, prestige, and fear. A world of expert crackers who strip the protection from expensive new software and upload copies onto the Net within days of its release.
A world of wannabes and collectors, whose hard drives are stuffed like stamp albums, with programs they'll never use. And a world of profit pirates, who do exactly what the software makers say: But in Mad Hatter's world, those sticker prices means nothing - except inasmuch as more expensive programs are harder to crack, and that makes them the most desirable, spectacular trophies of all.
Filthy lucre Phil's world is full of nasty numbers. A running scoreboard on the BSA Web site charts the industry's losses to piracy: A lot of that is garden-variety unlicensed copying and Far East-style counterfeiting. But an estimated one-third leaks out through warez world, which can be anywhere there's a computer, a phone, and a modem.
This is bad news for the business. Think of the lost revenue! He's not being paranoid: All this plus impossibly early betas and alphas. Add a smattering of mundane Web tools, Net apps, registered shareware, games, and utilities, and you have everything for the forward-looking computer user.
Warez world's volumes are impressive, too - a good 65 Mbytes a day of freshly cracked, quality new releases, chopped into disk-sized portions to make it from one hop to the next without clogging the serverscompressed, and uploaded.
Postings can vary from a few bytes for a crack to hundreds of megabytes. The nine main warez sites alone account for 30 to 40 percent of the traffic on Usenet, an average of more than Mbytes in downloads every 24 hours, according to OpNet. Bad news indeed for Phil and his friends, gazing at those endless dollar signs. But warez world's leading citizens say that filthy lucre is beside the point - at least for them and the hungry collectors they supply.
You give what you have, get something you need. No money needed," adds Clickety. I would never sell something I got from warez," California Red reiterates. Warez crackers, traders, and collectors don't pirate software to make a living: The more the manufacturers harden a product, with tricky serial numbers and anticopy systems, the more fun it becomes to break.
It's a hobby, an act of bloodless terrorism. It's "Fuck you, Microsoft. It's about telling him that you have something he doesn't and forcing him to trade something he has for something you don't. In other words, it's an addiction. Listen to a typical dialog on an IRC warez trading channel:. Warez traders scour the newsgroups every night, planting requests, downloading file parts they don't need.
Warezheads feel unfulfilled unless they've swelled their coffers by at least one application a day. They don't need this Java Development Kit tool, or that Photoshop plug-in - the thrill is in creating the new subdirectory and placing the tightly packed and zipped file cleanly, reverently, into the collection.
They may even install it. Then toy absentmindedly with its toolbars and palettes before tucking it away and never running it again. Look at Michael, an year-old warez junkie who's also into weight lifting. In the evenings, while his friends pursue women, he's either at the gym or home at his machine, combing the planet for the latest dot releases of 3D Studio MAX. The SoftImage rip is 20 disks. It took me three months to get the entire set.
The more high-end and toolbar-tastic the app, the better. Without technical support or manuals, he hasn't a clue how to use most of it. But it's there and will stay there. Just so you can say, 'I've got this or I've got that. Mad Hatter knows the feeling. We see it every day - people begging for something to 'finish their collection. But Mad Hatter - who runs the semi-tongue-in-cheek, semi-poker-faced discussion group alt. For Joe Warez Addict at the end of the cracked software food chain, membership in a group like the Inner Circle is the ultimate collectible.
A way to legitimize their addiction, work for the common good, and, of course, get a nice fresh supply of warez. The drug addict becomes dealer. A sizable chunk of Mad Hatter's daily mail is begging letters.
But can I join the Inner Circle? I mean, I respect the Inner Circle I was just wondering, can I? Please mail me back ASAP. Needless to say, this lone obsessive didn't get his chance. Joining the Inner Circle is nigh on impossible.
Reaching its members, though, is easy enough. They keep a high profile, both in posting files on Usenet and flaming lamers. When I first tried to contact them I thought that they weren't so good at answering email, but it turned out their provider had just been taken offline for illegal spamming. They relocated en masse, and my mail had been lost in transit.
So I posted a message to one of their newsgroups, made sure it was correctly labeled, politely worded, and not crossposted a cardinal sin anywhere on Usenet. A reply arrived within eight hours. Mad Hatter was more than happy to talk, but not on the phone, not in person, and not on conventional IRC. He and six other Inner Circle members set up their own IRC server, configured a secret channel, and arranged a mutually convenient time for a live interview.
We met and talked for nine hours, in the bizarre overlapping conversational style of IRC. They were frank and open, friendly and articulate - and, like any new start-up, flattered by the attention. A strong force, the Inner Circle has its own iconography and its own ideals. Its members are warez gods. They preach, police, advise, flame.
Good manners, good use of bandwidth, and good warez. Give unto others as you would have them give unto you. When the Inner Circle is not sourcing warez from secret sites, its members are hunting and gathering from more conventional sources. Clickety borrows fresh stuff from his clients. A few have attended Microsoft Solution seminars. These are not pimply teenagers devoid of social life and graces, little ferrets who talk in bIFF text and make napalm out of soap and lightbulbs; they're not downloading porn or being careful not to wake their parents or spelling "cool" as "kewl.
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