was a 1990 nation-wide United States Secret Service
crackdown on "illegal computer hacking
activities." It involved
raids in approximately fifteen different cities and resulted in
three arrests and the confiscation of computers, boards
, and floppy disks. It was
revealed in a press release on May 9, 1990. The arrests and
subsequent court cases resulted in the creation of the Electronic Frontier
. The operation is now seen as largely a
public-relations stunt. Operation Sundevil has also been viewed as
one of the preliminary attacks on the Legion of Doom
and similar hacking groups.
The raid on Steve Jackson Games
which led to the court case Steve
Jackson Games, Inc. v. United
States Secret Service
, is often attributed to Operation
Sundevil, but the Electronic Frontier Foundation states that it is
unrelated and cites this attribution as a media error.
comes from the Sundevil football stadium of Arizona State
University, near the local Secret Service headquarters from
where the investigation and raids were coordinated.
Prior to 1990, phreaks
, or those who
manipulate telecommunication systems, were generally untouched by
law enforcement and ran rampant through pay-phones. Phone companies
complained of financial losses from phreaking activities. Hackers,
or those who break into computers, began to appear as phone
companies began to switch to digital
. They too were generally
untouched by law enforcement. However, starting in 1989, the Secret
Service, which had been given authority from Congress
to deal with access device
fraud as an extension of wire fraud
investigations under Title 18
, began to investigate. Over the course of 18 months, they
investigated alleged unauthorized use of credit card numbers and
long-distance telephone dialing codes.
Operation Sundevil provided the Secret Service and the federal government
with the opportunity to obtain valuable and hard-to-find evidence
against wire and credit-card frauds. The boards targeted were full
of evidence that could be used against hackers and thieves.
Additionally, it was meant to send a message to both the hacking
community and law enforcement that activities like hacking and
phreaking were both illegal and prosecutable.
the Chicago Task Force
and the Arizona Organized Crime and Racketeering Bureau, the operation involved
raids in Austin, Plano, Cincinnati, Detroit, Los
Angeles, Miami, New York, Newark, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Richmond, Tucson, San
Diego, San Jose, and San Francisco.
The raids were centered in Arizona, where
the press conference occurred.
Raids generally took place in middle-class suburbs and targeted
thieves and telephone
abusers. They were carried out by local police, with the aid of
over 150 Secret Service agents. Twenty-seven search warrants
, resulting in three arrests,
were issued and executed on May 7 and 8, 1990. Police also took
around 42 computers and approximately 25 boards, making it the
largest crackdown on boards in world history. Finally, about 23,000
were also seized. These
held a variety of data, including software and other pirated
material. The three people arrested were "Tony the Trashman," "Dr.
Ripco," and "Electra."
Other parts of the operation targeted the underground ezine Phrack
, which had published the contents of a
proprietary text file copied from Bell
computers and containing information about the E911
emergency response system, although this
was later made null in a court case in which it was proven that the
same information about the E911 system was also provided to the
public through a mail-order catalog.
In a press release on May 9, 1990, officials from the federal
government and the Arizona state government revealed that the
Secret Service was involved in the investigation. The Assistant
Director of the US Secret Service, Garry M. Jenkins, commented in a
press release that, "the Secret Service is sending a clear message
to those computer hackers who have decided to violate the laws of
this nation in the mistaken belief that they can successfully avoid
detection by hiding behind the relative anonymity of their computer
Two public-access computer systems were shut down in the days
following the operation: an AT&T Unix system and a Jolnet
system in Lockport, Illinois. Neither has been linked to the
operation, however. An AT&T spokesman claimed the shutdown was
a result of an internal investigation and was not related to the
In response to the arrests, a group called the Electronic Frontier
was founded by Mitchell
, the founder of Lotus Development Corporation
and John Perry Barlow
, an author.
The foundation hired lawyers to represent the hackers in two of the
cases arising from Operation Sundevil.
Operation Sundevil was the most publicized action by the federal
government against hackers. In part due to this, it has been seen
as a public-relations stunt and a message to hackers. While it did
little overall damage to the hacking community, only managing to
take down a small fraction of the boards available on the web, it
has been lauded as a tactical success due to the surprise and
damage it caused to the communities in comparison to the long wars
waged against the Legion of Doom. However, it has also been
criticized as a failure due to several unsuccessful