After John Draper and his electronic whistling abilities gained a wide audience, there was a major shift in computing and hacking enjoyed a golden era of sorts in the 1980s. Society started becoming aware of hackers as computers became increasingly accessible and as networks grew in both size (number of terminals) and popularity (number of users) throughout the late seventies and early eighties.
During the 80s, the hacker population probably went up 1000-fold and there are mainly three events credited with doing the most in this area. Personal computer and clones were made available to the public at cheap prices. People could afford to buy a terminal and set up a BBS. And, where you find BBS's, you find hackers.
The movie War Games depicted the existence of hacking and the potential power associated with it. War Games displayed hacking as a glamorous thing and made it look easy. The movie shone a flashlight onto the hidden face of hacking, and introduced the wider public to the phenomenon. This created a degree of mass paranoia with the threat of hackers getting into any computer system and launching nuclear missiles. However, for a vast teenager audience, the movie gleaned a different message. It implied that hacking could get you girls. Cute girls…
Almost simultaneously, two novels had a great impact in popular culture: Cyberpunk, by Bruce Bethke, and Neuromancer, by William Gibson. The combination of the aforementioned factors catapulted hacker culture into the mainstream media.
By the late 1980s, the home PC had become more prevalent but large corporations still cornered the market on the technology. However, computers were no longer limited to the realms of hardcore hobbyists and business users; anyone, including existing and yet-to-be-realized hackers, could acquire a computer for their own purposes. Modems, enabling computers to communicate with each other over telephone lines, were also more widely available and significantly extended the hacker’s reach.
While phreakers were still blowing whistles into phone receivers, a new type of delinquent emerged; the cracker. This term, disputed until today, refers to a criminal hacker who uses his skills with criminal intentions far beyond the simple exploration of computer systems. This new breed of “hacker” directed its knowledge and tenacity toward distinctly criminal pursuits, including the distribution of pirated commercial software, games, and viruses and worms that could virtually shut down systems. Hacker and cracker clubs surged in popularity becoming nothing short of an epidemic, and in 1986, the U.S. government tried to thwart the problem by passing the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA).
Steve Bellovin, Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis develop and establish USENET for the UNIX to UNIX Copy (UUCP) architecture. USENET resembles a bulletin board system (BBS) but there is one major difference: the absence of a central server and dedicated administrator. USENET is a decentralized news network distributed among many servers that store and forward messages to one another.
A group of German computer enthusiasts with a strong political orientation forms the Chaos Computer Club (CCC) in Hamburg.