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Old 09 March 2020, 17:31   #1
mc68060
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Phone numbers in cracktros

What I've never really understood: Many cracktros had phone numbers to BBS's in them where you could presumably download the latest warez.

From a 2020 point of view this looks like a rather silly thing to do because AFAIU the police could have just looked up who those numbers belonged to and then go and arrest them pirates.

Or was that any different back in the day? Was there maybe a way to use camouflaged phone numbers that were more difficult to track down for authorities? Or why was it possible for warez groups to just publish those numbers for everybody to see without having to fear any legal consequences?
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Old 09 March 2020, 18:22   #2
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Originally Posted by mc68060 View Post
What I've never really understood: Many cracktros had phone numbers to BBS's in them where you could presumably download the latest warez.

From a 2020 point of view this looks like a rather silly thing to do because AFAIU the police could have just looked up who those numbers belonged to and then go and arrest them pirates.

Or was that any different back in the day? Was there maybe a way to use camouflaged phone numbers that were more difficult to track down for authorities? Or why was it possible for warez groups to just publish those numbers for everybody to see without having to fear any legal consequences?
Having the phone number is one thing, being able to login to get evidence is quite another.

On the very elite WHQ and HQ boards, you had to be referred by a trusted member of those boards. If you had no referral, you didnt get past the login screen and thr sysop sure as hell wouldnt speak to you.

Other lesser boards might ask you questions that only a scener would know, your average copper wouldnt know the answer to "who is QTX better known as?"

More secure than you would think
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Old 09 March 2020, 18:37   #3
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but surely just your number appearing in a cracktro and that number having a BBS is an admittance of Guilt by association.
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Old 09 March 2020, 19:01   #4
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but surely just your number appearing in a cracktro and that number having a BBS is an admittance of Guilt by association.
Nope.

You need evidence. Only way to obtain it is by being able to download something from that number and asssociated BBS.

You dont get a search warrant without that evidence.

Sure, a BBS number on a cracktro seems a sure fire way of proving guilt, but all it is , is the promise of nerfarious items, it could just be a schoolboy boast, regardless evidence is required or its just hearsay.
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Old 09 March 2020, 19:22   #5
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More secure than you would think
But why did they put those numbers in cracktros if non-sceners weren't able to log in anyway? If only authorised people could log in there, it doesn't make much sense to me why they should publish those numbers at all...
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Old 09 March 2020, 20:42   #6
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In the demo and warez scenes, the intros were also a means of communication. Perhaps your board's number changed, it was easy to communicate this in the intro of your latest release.
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Old 09 March 2020, 20:48   #7
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Interesting. Despite living alongside "the scene" for so many years, my knowledge about is actually next to nothing.

So let's say I somehow gained access to such board. What could I find there? Was it "free" or some monetary reimbursement was in order?
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Old 09 March 2020, 20:58   #8
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Interesting. Despite living alongside "the scene" for so many years, my knowledge about is actually next to nothing.

So let's say I somehow gained access to such board. What could I find there? Was it "free" or some monetary reimbursement was in order?
From my experiences back in the day, in order to download anything from those sites, you had to be able to upload something "fresh", such as a 0-hour release from a major cracking group. Your upload would earn you credits for downloading with a certain ratio, based on bytes. Typically was a 3:1 ratio....so for example, if you uploaded 1MB, you could download 3MB.
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Old 09 March 2020, 21:06   #9
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It depends on the board what you could find, but generally most of what you could get at the time is now in TOSEC, there are also lots of BBS site archives online that will give you a good flavour of the type of content available.

Most boards had transfer ratios - in order to download thigs on offer, you had to upload something new that they didn't have. It was too long ago for me to remember exactly, but tor example let's say for every 10k you uploaded, you could then download 100k from the board.

Some boards had time limits on how long you could be connected to give others a fair chance, others had several numbers and the bigger boards had "ring-down" where you called on number and it automatically tried all the boards lines.

The only money that changed hands when I was active on BBS's was the first time my phone bill came, but there were various tricks at the time to get around that which were quickly learnt!

As a coder, as well as doing a couple of BBS intro's, I got into writing BBS doors (add-ons) for Ami-Express which either took existing concepts and improved them, or were new unique features based on ideas suggested by sysops of the boards I was on.
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Old 09 March 2020, 21:14   #10
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I see, so it's a similar system to how private trackers work these days (just much more strict).
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Old 10 March 2020, 07:34   #11
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The ratio also depended on your standing in the scene. If you were a member of a group the board was affiliated with or otherwise elite or knew the sysop personally, you often had disabled ratios.

Some boards also sold access for money. Some of the biggest busts in .fi were made possible because users paid the sysop.

Regarding the uploaded warez, if you managed to actually get on a fast board, it was quite ruthless. If you upped old warez, your sending was nuked and sometimes the punishment was a multiple of the credits you would have earned. Fast boards wanted to stay fast and HD space was limited and expensive back then.

There are many points of view to the whole thing. The most romantic one is, that the boards and the releases (and by extension also the crack intros) were only intended for the people actually participating in the warez scene. It was about the competition who has the most first releases, not primarily about ripping off the games companies or getting the warez for free, let alone providing lamers with free software. But in reality there are many shades of grey and the point of view changes depending on who you ask. Some participants were absolutely in it for the money with no qualms about profiting off illegal activities.

Last edited by Jope; 10 March 2020 at 07:45.
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Old 10 March 2020, 12:53   #12
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A guy who sold copied games at a local market used to pay us £10 per game as he had no idea how to use a BBS or anything really aside from how to use xcopy.

Usually to get downloads we would rush from one BBS to another to be first with any new release and then throw in some quite large MOD files which we would make (and were usually awful) but it then allowed us to get all that weeks releases and go get our £50 pocket money from crazy Mark at the market, which when you're like 12 is quite a lot of money.

I just remembered something else we also used to do which was sell him the blank disks for 20p each - these were cover disks we used to get from the local recycling centre and peel the stickers off. Amazingly all unsold magazines just used to dump the cover disks. I say 'get' the guy there used to just let us have them (usually a few hundred a month) for £10 and he'd turn a blind eye.

Ah the fun of growing up on a shite council estate in the early 90s.

Last edited by rothers; 10 March 2020 at 15:51.
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Old 10 March 2020, 15:41   #13
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You have to bear in mind that law enforcement (in the free world) was not so aggressive back in the day. Mass incarceration for nonviolent crimes was only beginning to ramp up, and the idea of the police being used to solve all problems was not a thing.

It's a holdover from the 1970's where in continental Europe you could pretty much do whatever the hell you wanted as long as you weren't physically hurting anyone or helping the Communists. Even in the United States the drug war was only starting to ramp up and in most cases you were fine as long as you weren't involved in massive organized crime or -- again -- helping the Communists (or part of a peace group that was seen as helping the Communists).

It's a different era that is hard to imagine in today's hyper-policed world, but older people from Eastern Europe will easily understand it, since they grew up with the government always watching them. The difference is that now you're watched by computers instead of a massive network of neighbors on the secret police payroll.
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Old 10 March 2020, 17:38   #14
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Interesting. Despite living alongside "the scene" for so many years, my knowledge about is actually next to nothing.

So let's say I somehow gained access to such board. What could I find there? Was it "free" or some monetary reimbursement was in order?
And if you don't know anything about these boards, it wasn't all about files.

Actually BBS'es were created for messaging originally, and all these boards always had message areas where you could start public discussions, and then you could send private messages, online messages and chat with other users who were simultaneously online (on multi node systems or to system operator). There were whole communities on these boards who discussed about everything, like we do here on web forums.

Reading and writing hundreds of messages daily could of course get expensive on dial-up systems, so there were programs to read and write messages offline. You just downloaded a pack of messages since your last visit to a BBS, and then you could disconnect and start reading offline. You could also write replies with these programs and then next time you connected to the board, you just uploaded your reply pack.

There were also some simple games you could play on boards, from single player games to multiplayer games.

Some boards also had public message and file areas for "lamers", but then hidden areas (conferences) for illegal stuff.
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Old 10 March 2020, 17:52   #15
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It's a different era that is hard to imagine in today's hyper-policed world, but older people from Eastern Europe will easily understand it, since they grew up with the government always watching them. The difference is that now you're watched by computers instead of a massive network of neighbors on the secret police payroll.
It's not exactly true, at least not in relation to this topic. The government surveillance in EE differed from state to state, with East Germany being by far the worst (from the satellite countries) but mine (Poland) and others actually not so bad. You could also pretty much do whatever you wanted, as long as it wasn't political (promoting the "rotten West", freedom-fighting, etc). The other difference is that now you're being watched by computers and phones, but the real overlords are corporations, not governments.

And so, every bigger city in my country had a "computer fair" in which hardware would amount to 10% sales and pirated software to 90%. And it was all perfectly safe, because there was no copyright law, so no reason to prosecute anybody. In fact, most government institutions and big companies themselves have used such software well into the Nineties.

I'm not sure how many people have used BBS's in our zone though, or if it was possible to connect at all from Eastern Europe. They must have had some channels though because every Sunday at the fair there would be a flood of new releases. Mind you, you had to go to the capital to get them (500km train journey, but no matter), so probably only these guys were connected.

Fun Fact: the guy who has founded CD Projekt Red (of The Witcher fame) started as a ZX Spectrum pirate at one of these computer fairs
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Old 10 March 2020, 18:28   #16
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It's not exactly true, at least not in relation to this topic. The government surveillance in EE differed from state to state, with East Germany being by far the worst (from the satellite countries) but mine (Poland) and others actually not so bad. You could also pretty much do whatever you wanted, as long as it wasn't political (promoting the "rotten West", freedom-fighting, etc). The other difference is that now you're being watched by computers and phones, but the real overlords are corporations, not governments.

And so, every bigger city in my country had a "computer fair" in which hardware would amount to 10% sales and pirated software to 90%. And it was all perfectly safe, because there was no copyright law, so no reason to prosecute anybody. In fact, most government institutions and big companies themselves have used such software well into the Nineties.

I'm not sure how many people have used BBS's in our zone though, or if it was possible to connect at all from Eastern Europe. They must have had some channels though because every Sunday at the fair there would be a flood of new releases. Mind you, you had to go to the capital to get them (500km train journey, but no matter), so probably only these guys were connected.

Fun Fact: the guy who has founded CD Projekt Red (of The Witcher fame) started as a ZX Spectrum pirate at one of these computer fairs
Fair enough. My main point was that you weren't being monitored all the time and in general most laws were ignored as long as there was no victim, and in general a lot less stuff was illegal to begin with.

Even when there was a victim, most disputes were settled without lawyers or courts. Calling in the law was the method of last resort.

I think the turning point was best exemplified by the hot coffee lawsuit against McDonalds. It's not that the store had no fault in the matter (the coffee *was* way too hot), but that the matter turned into a massive lawsuit rather than a simple informal settlement without legal involvement.

In general life is a lot more regulated nowadays. You have to think about your behavior more because everyone is watching you, and a full digital record of your life is kept.

The Stasi would be jealous of what is possible today.
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Old 10 March 2020, 19:13   #17
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The Stasi would be jealous of what is possible today.
Oh, totally...PRISM or Social Credit systems would be beyond their wildest dreams. But I'd rather not dwell on these dreadful things here, retro computing is one of my ways of escapism from it all
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Old 10 March 2020, 19:59   #18
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But why did they put those numbers in cracktros if non-sceners weren't able to log in anyway? If only authorised people could log in there, it doesn't make much sense to me why they should publish those numbers at all...
The larger BBS's up the hierarchy were not for lamers to call in any case.

They were simply classed as the main distribution hubs for the rest of the scene, and where you would upload first.

So, Fairlight cracks Empire Soccer '94.

The cracker shares the crack with the original supplier as soon as its done, he then uploads to the WHQ of Fairlight (of which there is only one WHQ), as soon as its on there, all the spreaders are sat on nodes and are downloading it out of the Fairlight conference on that WHQ.

Cracker and original supplier would then go and hit the next biggest BBS in the group, usually an American one, cracker might go and directly support any UK boards.

The spreaders that downloaded from the WHQ, well, they will now be hitting the WHQ and major HQ's of the competing groups.

So when you factor in that Fairlight is uploading directly to the WHQ, Prestige, Skid Row, Crystal, Quartex, TRZ, TKK, Oracle or anyone else that was around would also be trying to get their release onto that Fairlight WHQ, you can see that these big monster boards are really not meant for lamers at all, because a lamer is never going to be able to upload something new that isn't already on there.

If a lamer is able to upload to the Fairlight WHQ before Prestige can get their own release on there, then theres something wrong with Prestiges spreaders and modem traders

The further down the list of BBS's in the cracktros usually denotes pay boards, and these boards will allow lamers on, but they would need to pay to be able to leech, i.e. download whatever they like.
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Old 10 March 2020, 20:21   #19
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So it was said to upload something "fresh" - had that to be a fresh crack or even other kind of medium like demos, homebrew games, music mod files,etc.? (that would explain why so much demos start to come out)
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Old 10 March 2020, 20:29   #20
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So it was said to upload something "fresh" - had that to be a fresh crack or even other kind of medium like demos, homebrew games, music mod files,etc.? (that would explain why so much demos start to come out)
I'm not sure if anyone else used the word "fresh", but when I used it, I was referring to a fresh 0-hour crack of a new game or application, not as much demos or MODs.
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