Reality Bytes

The White House-cracking cybergang is gone. Now Houstonís most notorious hacker hopes to reboot his life and return to his love: computers.

Gregory also got high, got busted for marijuana possession and, when he was 17, was convicted of assault. Gregory has explanations for every time he's gotten in trouble. In his mind, every charge was trumped up.

And his escape hatch was always in the hardwired heaven of the Internet. His cyber-roamings led him into an online friendship with another techie known as Mindphasr, who would turn out to be Chad Davis, a 19-year-old sandwich shop employee in Ashwaubenon, Wisconsin.

They kicked around their philosophies and realized that Mosthated and Mindphasr were kindred spirits. Out of that alliance came Global Hell.

Gregory's mother visited him regularly in prison.
Daniel Kramer
Gregory's mother visited him regularly in prison.
Gregory's mother visited him regularly in prison.
Gregory's mother visited him regularly in prison.

While the havoc wreaked by the online gang drew grudging admiration from investigators, nobody involved was ready to concede that creative genius was behind their exploits.

As the case came together, Lynd realized he wasn't on the track of any Kevin Mitnick, the world's most notorious cracker. The FBI agent saw it as the difference between Rembrandt and someone who went to art school to learn to paint like Rembrandt.

"He could make it sing, there's no question about it," Lynd says. "But he wasn't going to be writing code à la Independence Day, where it takes out the alien fleet."

In fact, Lynd viewed Gregory and the bulk of Global Hell as the cyberequivalent of gangbangers.

"If they hadn't had computers, [they] would've basically been sitting on the street corner popping people with pistols," he says. "It's just the fact that they just had computers instead of guns and drugs."

Yarbrough, the former prosecutor, agrees. "This guy overnight brought a gang mentality to the Internet." He calls Gregory the self-styled Al Capone of the Internet, deciding who could be in Global Hell and who they'd go after next. He says sometimes Gregory wouldn't let others join the gang until they pulled off their own crack.

Usually they relied on scanning programs that searched thousands of networks at a time, looking for flaws. Gregory likens it to stealing cars from a parking lot. If you have the time, you just scour the entire lot, flagging unlocked doors and moving on. Only Global Hell was sending its little thieves into cyberspace to check the locks on thousands of networks at a time.

While agents portrayed them as hard-core criminals, Gregory could be downright gracious, leaving notes behind to advise systems administrators on how to secure their operations.

His note to the American Retirement Corporation, cracked in January 1999: "Well, Mr. Admin, simply run the file restore in your /root directory and everything will be back to normal. If you need to reach me about your system, simply e-mail me, and I will hopefully be of help to your system. [Global Hell] didn't hack your system to destroy your documents, nor to misuse your system, mainly to show you and the internet community that sekurity [sic] is a must…"

While the group pulled off some clean hacks, it was at times incredibly clumsy, leaving what Yarbrough calls "digital footprints" all over some Web sites. Not knowing how to scrub the prints, the gang would just crash the network.

Yarbrough likens it to a sloppy house burglary, saying, "If you leave too much evidence, just burn it down."

"What Patrick was doing was not sophisticated," Yarbrough says. "This is one of the reasons why I've got such safe employment for the next 20 years -- because corporate America doesn't really want to concentrate on these issues. And so people like Patrick can just get online, spend a week or two in their bedroom…and can play Matthew Broderick for a day in WarGames."

Investigators may have assured themselves that these crackers weren't really that threatening, but nobody would be prepared for the flurry that followed the first round of raids.

Just like a gang, Global Hell retaliated.

First came the U.S. Interior Department.

Global Hell members broke into the Web site and wrote, "[The] FBI declared war by raiding lots of gH members. Now, it's our turn to hit them where it hurts…by going after every computer on the Net with a '.gov' prefix. We'll keep hitting them until they get down on their knees and beg."

They even shredded the defenses of the U.S. Army.

Davis -- Mindphasr -- had his personal computer seized by agents in a Wisconsin raid. So he turned to a library computer to invade the army's Web site. By the time he left it, users could view his parting shot on the army's system:

"Global Hell is alive. Global Hell will not die."

More rage came in a coup de grâce even as the raids unfolded. Members went straight to Lynd's turf: the FBI Web site. They launched a distributed denial-of-service attack, sending so many hits that the bureau had to close the site for two days.

"We really just spit in their face," Gregory says. "Say, man, you just kicked our leader's door down; we're gonna kick your leader's door down."

International publicity followed. Wired Magazine called it "one of the government's most embarrassing and notorious cyber cracking cases ever." 20/20 interviewed Gregory in prison. He was profiled on the front page of The Wall Street Journal and covered in wire stories throughout the world. Mosthated was elevated in some coverage as a virtual Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief, a former criminal so charming that you can't help but forgive his past.

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