The summer of 1984 brought a great surge of interest in “phreaking” and hacking, bringing the creation of many hacker groups and BBSes. One of these such gathering places for phreakers to discuss and learn about topics in telecommunications was the intensely popular message board Plover-NET.
Plover-NET, commonly mis-denoted as Plovernet, began in January of 1984 in Long Island, New York. Its creator, a hacker by the name of Quasi-Moto, started the endeavor with a fellow hacker by the name of Lex Luthor (who would start the hacker group Legion of Doom soon after). The BBS was ended in early 1985 when the creator moved back to Florida and could not find a large user-base thereafter. This was a Hack/Phreak board with only one main section: a phreak message board. Now, what exactly is phreaking?
Phreaking was a term coined by a community of hackers that were especially interested in telecommunications technologies. Hacking in general has to do with basically anything computer and software related. These groups were particularly focused on how to interact with phone lines and such in an age where bulletin board systems were incredibly popular and new telecommunications software and hardware was appearing in great quantity.
These message boards were flooded with newcomers aiming to learn as much as they could from more knowledge-able phreakers. An article written by an unknown author from Phrack magazine’s 31st issue released on May 28th, 1990 describes the start of Plover-NET and another organization by the BBS’s co-sysop (short for system operator) Lex Luther. This organization was a hacker group by the name of Legion of Doom. Quasi-Moto was also a member of another hacker/phreak group named Fargo-4A. There were quite a few hacker groups of this sort during the 1980’s and 90’s, containing usually around a dozen members.
Plover-NET, an iconic message board to these hacker groups, had a very simply design: only one main phreak board, and one section requiring additional security named Phreak Philes as described by the message board’s creator in this text file. There were no other subboards or secret sections which people often asked Quasi-Moto about. There were three ways to join this section of the BBS: you could (1) impress Quasi-Moto or get recommended by Lex Luther, (2) create an original file to be put in the section, or (3) send in $5 (which paid for the cost of running the BBS). This created a section where the only people allowed were those that were avid phreakers as found by Lex or Quasi-Moto or who were willing to pay for their phreaking hobby.
Due to the seriousness of those seeking the message board, the posts were of high quality, and the popularity of the BBS surged during the first few months of operation. At its peak, Plover-NET had around 600 users. The popularity was so high, in fact, that the long distance phone company that many used to dial in called LDX actually blocked all calls to the BBS’ number, which was 516-935-2481. However, because many of these users had more intimate knowledge of the telecommunications systems used they had numerous other ways to connect.
The number of hacker groups and popularity of these certain BBSes captured the attention of those outside this community and simply interested in general BBSes. One writer from the same area in Long Island, New York recounts ther experiences with message boards and mentions their memory of hacker groups in their Newsday article1 published on April 18th, 1995, almost a decade after the surge of Plover-NET. Titled “Life in Cyberspace COMPUTERS IN THE ’90s Hungry for Info? Let’s do Lunch:”, Michelle Slatalla talks about the change in their life due to the discovery of BBSes in the past weeks and the creation of their own, named Virtual Lunch.
The main attraction was to create a place for them and their friends to discuss topics usually discussed during their lunchtime, which was now impossible due to job and living area changes. They were incredibly impressed by the sheer amount of flexibility and power they obtained through BBSes. They could move posts, ban certain users, create topic sections, and rebuild the entire structure of their BBS. This was probably the draw that started the hacker phenomenon and overall popularity of BBSes. You can do whatever you want, create whatever you want, and let whoever you want use it.
This was an example of a total amateur who bought the software and installed it on their computer with the assistance of tech support, however with more knowledge from phreak boards like Plover-NET, you could do a lot more for a lot less money with the right know-how. Slatalla could rearrange some messages and ban users, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Quasi-Moto created a login that was based on the TELENET packet switching network, which confused some users, although was very popular among hackers.
This was basically the only complicated feature of Plover-NET, as the creator Quasi-Moto wanted to keep it as simple as possible, but I assume the messages contained within the board discussed much more in-depth topics.
The message board, although it was only in service for less than a year, made quite an impact on hackers, being mentioned in articles for the next decade at least. An effort was taken up by Phrack Magazine and LOD Communications in 1993 to convert and save all the messages from various message boards, including Plover-NET, into a single file. The file was sold to subscribers for $39, plus an extra $5 for an ASCII version. To see the full details of the project, check out this article in Phrack Magazine by an unknown author.
This project shows that people really were interesting in saving the discussions of hackers and phreakers, and that many were affected by these popular BBSes. A list of beneficiaries for the files was given: participants who would want to reminisce, enthusiasts who came after the boards went down, companies who wanted to check if their systems were compromised, security professionals who wanted to check hacking techniques, schools for research, journalists and the press checking facts, and simply the curious public. The topics discussed on the boards could’ve included how to hack government communications servers, shut down entire area code phone services, monitor packet switching networks, and even work with organized crime. Hackers not only gathered to create useful and cool programs and BBSes, but also commit nefarious crimes and invade people’s privacy.
Phreak message boards such as Plover-NET represented an underbelly to the BBS world, containing hackers and phreakers that could topple systems, make entertaining games, or find out who you talk to. Hacker groups were started such as the Legion of Doom, and people from all across the country could gather to learn about emerging telecommunication technologies. This was a gathering place for tech-savvy hackers and curious onlookers during a time right before an Internet of connection displaced the relics of bulletin board systems, giving many hackers a new playground to discover.
- By Michelle Slatalla, STAFF WRITER. 1995. “Life in Cyberspace COMPUTERS IN THE ’90s Hungry for Info? Let’s do Lunch: [NASSAU AND SUFFOLK Edition].” Newsday, Apr 18. http://proxy.library.jhu.edu/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/docview/278904326?accountid=11752.