Carolyn Meinel

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Mar. 3, 1999 _______________________________________________________________________ See the Happy Hacker web site at Your local firewall blocks you? Try URL of the day: - Be a part of the world's largest computer _______________________________________________________________________


Subject: Carolyn Meinel --- Debunking the myth.

Approximately a year and a half ago, I attended Defcon V. Information Security professionals attend Defcon regularly to see old friends, form new relationships, and generally relax in an environment where we can speak about familiar topics without having to stop and explain years of computer knowledge to the general public, managers, clients or our bosses.

According to the Official Defcon V page there was a panel discussion
moderated by:

Carolyn P. Meinel - Moderator of the Happy Hacker Digest and mailing
                    lists.  She will preside over a seperate[sic] Happy

Hacker discussion pannel[sic] that

                    will cover the topics of wether[sic] or not "newbies"
                    should hav[sic] information handed to them, or should
                    they learn for themselves?  

Having established relationships previously with other Information Security Professionals, I was surprised her name had never been mentioned, so I decided to sit in on the panel. Understanding that this was an informal convention, I was not expecting strict guidelines or 'stuffy' behavior from any of the panel members, but the complete ignorance and irrelevance of Ms. Meinel's statements, retorts and reactions to open questions amazed me. I left the panel discussion early.

Over the last year, I have kept a watchful eye on this person, Ms. Meinel. I researched her history, read her list, watched other mailing lists, and attempted to understand how and when she became a 'Security Professional'. Knowing the experience and educational backgrounds of other Information Security Professionals, I could not grasp how the moderation of a mailing list qualified her as a 'Security Professional.'

I received a document sent to Mike Bellus of the FBI outlining Ms. Meinel's services as a consultant. In the description of the "3-day Beginner Hacking Course" she was proposing to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ms. Meinel roughly portrays one of her services as "...designed to go far enough in these three days to teach serious proficiency at catching email criminals such as mail bombers."

Such are the 'skills' that Ms. Meinel encourages in her followers on the "Happy Hacker" mailing list and journal, although the 'skills' Ms. Meinel teaches on her list are just sufficient to get a new computer enthusiast in enough hot water to send them to prison. She of course throws in an occasional 'Don't do this or you will go to jail' comment, but let's compare that to setting the cookie jar in front of the hungry child, shall we?

Questions began to form in my mind: 'Is Ms. Meinel attempting to generate business for herself?', 'Is her skillset really this limited, or is she teaching new computer enthusiasts just enough to set off the warning signals with potential clients?'

I watched at a distance as Ms. Meinel continuously poked and prodded her way around the underground scene with inflammatory accusations, ridiculous claims, and pious retorts to intelligent queries. Taunting the underground personalities with challenges, then turning to Federal Officials and accusing innocent people of terrorizing her, Ms. Meinel has unjustly accused many people of criminal activities, with not the slightest bit of evidence.

It was obvious to me that Ms. Meinel had an agenda other than simply helping the uninformed in her 'Happy Hacker' mailing list. Sure enough, in early 1998 her book 'The Happy Hacker' was published.

Interest waned after the book was released, as myself and other security professional associates realized that she was a harmless charlatan.

At Defcon VI Ms. Meinel was amazingly quiet.

A few months later, my current military client and I attended NISSC (National Information Systems Security Conference).

One session of the conference concerned 'The Future of Information Security'. Included in this session's audience were professionals from the Department of Justice, National Security Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Secret Service, security professionals from the 'Big Five' accounting firms, Microsoft, and INFOSEC Professionals in the private industry. The panel discussion soon moved to 'How are we as INFOSEC professionals going to police the integrity of our profession?' When someone mentioned the content of Ms. Meinel's recent 'Scientific American' article, the entire audience burst into laughter. It was a satisfying moment for those of us following Ms. Meinel's less than illustrious career: to finally see that our fellow PROFESSIONALS see her for what she is, and not what she purports to be. I returned home from that conference with a sense of satisfaction, knowing that other INFOSEC professionals see through the charade that Ms. Meinel is creating.

The most disturbing part of this last year and a half of watching Ms. Meinel, is her uncanny ability to pull the wool over the eyes of the press and the limited amount of the public that listen to her. I am afraid we are going to see more people in our industry playing these games with potential clients and the public, and we must constantly guard the integrity of INFOSEC, for integrity is a mainstay of any INFOSEC professional.

It was with shame that I read your article after my boss pointed it out to me, asking if I was familiar with Ms. Meinel.

This letter is not for publication, only to ask you to please research your publicized writers before publication in the future.

This is not a letter to taunt Ms. Meinel, for I have no desire to respond to her, correspond with her, or even give her an attempt to justify her ever downward spiralling 'career' as a 'Security Expert'.

Ralph Logan Senior Information Management Specialist Affiliated Computer Services, Inc. - La historia nunca contada del underground hacker en la Península Ibérica.