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The real reason for the crash

nazgul@EDDIE.MIT.EDU (Kee Hinckley)
(chuckle, topical)

Late-breaking news: Federal investigators have revealed that yesterday's record drop in the stock market was apparently triggered by two high-school students operating out of a basement somewhere in Western Pennsylvania. The names of the suspects, both minors, have not been released. Arrest warrants have allegedly been issued, but the student hackers apparently have not yet been apprehended. A spokesman for the FBI refused to comment on the rumor that the two had managed to leave the country carrying millions of dollars in cash and gold.

Just after the close of stock trading on Monday, the Washington Post received a call from two individuals who claimed to be the stock market "hackers." The callers explained that they have been breaking into the computer systems of major brokerage houses for several months, "adjusting" the price of various stocks. This was done by telephone, using a Macintosh personal computer and, later, a Perq workstation that the pair had retrieved from a dumpster at CMU. The callers claim that they finally "cracked" security on the New York Stock Exchange's new supercomputer about two weeks ago.

"It was ridiculously easy," said one of the hackers, who identified himself only as "Captain Weenie." "The password was `Scrooge'. What turkeys! After we bounced a few stocks, they got suspicious and changed the password, but it was too late. We had Trojan horses planted all over that system by the time they got wind of us. We were just playing around, trying to keep ahead of them, and making some pocket money on the side. We had a big pile of gold hidden in this hollow tree. We joked about buying a Cray with it, but we didn't have enough yet. You can't just buy the machine and put it in the basement, and my mother would have been pretty suspicious if we put up a big air-conditioned building in the back yard. The projection TV was bad enough--we told her we did some programming for the guy who owned the store. Anyway, today the (expletive deleted) Perq went crazy and we decided that we had better go underground in a hurry."

The two went on to explain that the record-breaking plunge in stock prices was triggered unintentionally when faulty floating-point microcode on the Perq put the machine into an infinite loop in the middle of a routine that selected a stock at random and issued bogus "sell" orders. By the time the machine's plug was pulled, nervous investors had noticed the dramatic downward trend and had begun to sell off their own holdings. "The market was probably going to crash anyway," one of the callers claimed, "but I wish they had debugged that microcode."

Professor Douglas Tygar of Carnegie-Mellon University, an expert on computer security, has been summoned to the White House for urgent consultation on how such break-ins can be prevented in the future. As he was boarding the private jet at Greater Pittsburgh Airport, Tygar was heard to comment that the root password for the stock exchange's main computer should have been at least eight characters long, and probably should not have been the name of a comic book character. Tygar denied rumors that he had accepted the post of Secretary of the Treasury, claiming that he would rather be director of the National Security Agency.

> 20-Oct-87 01:48 "Scott E. Fahlman" Stock Market
> From: "Scott E. Fahlman" <Fahlman@C.CS.CMU.EDU>

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