Too Long; Didn't Read
The world is crashing down on me tonight; The walls are closing in on me tonight.
— from `Outbreak of Love', Earth and Sun and Moon.
The AFP was frustrated. A group of hackers were using the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) as a launchpad for hacking attacks on Australian companies, research institutes and a series of overseas sites.
Despite their best efforts, the detectives in the AFP's Southern Region Computer Crimes Unit hadn't been able to determine who was behind the attacks. They suspected it was a small group of Melbourne-based hackers who worked together. However, there were so much hacker activity at RMIT it was difficult to know for sure. There could have been one organised group, or several. Or perhaps there was one small group along with a collection of loners who were making enough noise to distort the picture.
Still, it should have been a straightforward operation. The AFP could trace hackers in this sort of situation with their hands tied behind their backs. Arrange for Telecom to whack a last party recall trace on all incoming lines to the RMIT modems. Wait for a hacker to logon, then isolate which modem he was using. Clip that modem line and wait for Telecom to trace that line back to its point of origin.
However, things at RMIT were not working that way. The line traces began failing, and not just occasionally. All the time.
Whenever RMIT staff found the hackers on-line, they clipped the lines and Telecom began tracking the winding path back to the originating phone number. En route, the trail went dead. It was as if the hackers knew they were being traced … almost as if they were manipulating the telephone system to defeat the AFP investigation.
The next generation of hackers seemed to have a new-found sophistication which frustrated AFP detectives at every turn. Then, on 13 October 1990, the AFP got lucky. Perhaps the hackers had been lazy that day, or maybe they just had technical problems using their traceless phreaking techniques. Prime Suspect couldn't use Trax's traceless phreaking method from his home because he was on a step-by-step exchange, and sometimes Trax didn't use the technique. Whatever the reason, Telecom managed to successfully complete two line traces from RMIT and the AFP now had two addresses and two names. Prime Suspect and Trax.