Beyond The Broadcast

An international group of hackers that calls itself the Masters of Downloading [or MOD] claims to have hacked a Defense Department computer network and stolen software that tracks military satellites.
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But the group's members say it's just the thrill of the hunt that compels them to break into government computers, not ill will. They say they're careful not to damage the networks they hack or sell software or data they acquire. But they could. And the group's exploits have put the government on notice.

CBS News Correspondent David Martin interviewed two 17-year-old members of the group. The teens asked to have their real identities concealed. As hackers, they go by the names Sniper and Solar.

CBS News: So what is MOD? What does it stand for and what does it do?
Sniper: Masters of Downloading. It's kind of a joke name really, but we mostly are just trying to show that the networks and everybody that they think is so secure is not really that secure at all. And they say that there's no classified information on the Internet and that's how it's supposed to be, but that's not true.

CBS News: How big are the Masters of Downloading. How many members do you have?
Sniper: About 15.

CBS News: And they're all in this area? Where are they?
Sniper: No, they're all over the country.
Solar: Spread around the world.

CBS News: Are you a good student in school?
Sniper: No, I'm not in school currently.

CBS News: So you're a dropout? A high school dropout?
Sniper: Yeah. I'm lingering.

CBS News: Lingering?
Sniper: I'm not sure yet what I'm going to do—taking a break, basically.
Solar: [Who has been in college for a year.] High school's just a punishment for being a teenager. [Laugh] I know I guess it teaches you the basic skills of history and math. But other than that, when it's computer related, we have to go elsewhere to get that information.

CBS News: How many other people like you do you think are out there?
Sniper: A lot. [Laugh] Hundreds. There's a lot of people that hack all the time.

CBS News: Is this a cyber-gang?
Sniper: No, not like a gang in the context most people think of. Most people think of a gang, and they think of like violence and killing and all the crazy things like that, but . . .
Solar: We just sit at our computers and use our phone lines to get into systems.

CBS News: And steal. You use the word steal.

CBS News: You steal?
Solar: Yeah, you could call it stealing. It's not bad. We're not going into a store and taking something that's worth of value.
Solar: It's not a physical threat. I guess it could be a physical threat if you maybe hacked into a medical office and deleted some records but just going in and looking around and leaving . . .

CBS News: Well don't you think most people would feel like they had been violated if you did that to their house?
Both: Yeah.
Sniper: I mean I'd feel violated

CBS News: Tell me some of the things you've found.
Sniper: There's a lot of different stuff. From like kinky e-mails to, like um, you know, documents saying what time people are coming into work and how much different people in the military, from different sections, how much they get paid. You know, payroll type stuff.
Solar: You can download their home security systems and tweak them and insert some type of a backdoor. You know a Trojan horse.

CBS News: If you wanted to do harm, what could you do?
Sniper: I mean, everything's on the computer. I mean, you could name something and you could probably make it happen.
Solar: You can delete a lot of their files.
Sniper: Yeah, you could take out vital computers that they need and . . . like a lot of satellite uplinks and stuff like that. I think they'd have a hell of a day if you took out a satellite and stuff that they're using to, you know, look at Iraq or something like that.

CBS News: And you think you could take out the ground station for a satellite?
Sniper: Probably. I mean, most satellites are controlled from some type of computer.

CBS News: But those are probably classified, right?
Sniper: I guess, but . . .
Solar: Depends.
Sniper: It doesn't matter. Just because something's classified doesn't mean you can't get into it.

CBS News: Have you ever gotten into a classified computer?
Sniper: No comment.

CBS News: No comment. Really?
Sniper: Yeah.

CBS News: Why is that different from talking about unclassified?
Sniper: I don't know. The government gets really touchy about classified stuff, and they're already looking. We don't need to up the ante.

CBS News Correspondent David Martin