The 414s gained notoriety in the early 1980s as a group of friends and computer hackers who broke into dozens of high-profile computer systems, including ones at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and Security Pacific Bank.
They were eventually identified as six teenagers, taking their name after the area code of their hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Ranging in age from 16 to 22, they met as members of a local Explorer Scout post. The 414s were investigated and identified by the FBI in 1983. There was widespread media coverage of them at the time, and 17-year-old Neal Patrick, a student at Rufus King High School, emerged as spokesman and "instant celebrity" during the brief frenzy of interest, which included Patrick appearing on the September 5, 1983 cover of Newsweek.
Patrick and the 414s were described as meeting the profile of computer hackers at the time: "Young, male, intelligent, highly motivated and energetic". Patrick claimed his only motivation was the challenge of getting into places he was not supposed to, and remaining there undetected. The systems they broke into usually were running Digital Equipment Corporation's VMS operating system.
Many saw them as harmless pranksters, sort of a real life WarGames—a film that was released earlier that year. The 414s themselves were not entirely harmless, doing $1,500 worth of damage at Sloan-Kettering during their June 3, 1983 break-in by deleting billing records (ostensibly to cover their tracks). Patrick and the 414s did cause real concern, as experts realized that others could duplicate their techniques and do real damage. They used inexpensive personal computers and simple hacking techniques, such as using common or default passwords and exploiting well-known, but unpatched, security holes.
Chen Chui, an administrator who discovered the electronic break-in, left a message for the intruders and contacted the FBI, who placed wiretaps and eventually traced the calls back to Milwaukee. Gerald Wondra, 22 at the time, was the first visited by the FBI. Wondra lived with his mother in West Allis, a Milwaukee suburb. Wondra said he was "curious, he was just having fun".
Most of the members of the 414s were not prosecuted, in various agreements to stop their activities and pay restitutions. Wondra and another defendant each pleaded guilty on two counts of "making harassing telephone calls".
As a result of news coverage, congressman Dan Glickman called for an investigation and new laws about computer hacking. Neal Patrick testified before the U.S. House of Representatives on September 26, 1983 about the dangers of computer hacking, and six bills concerning computer crime were introduced in the House that year.
A documentary called The 414s: The Original Teenage Hackers premiered in competition at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and was picked up for distribution by CNN. The film features present-day interviews with some of the original 414s as they reflect on the early days of hacking and the media attention that followed.
- Detroit Free Press. September 27, 1983. Missing or empty
- Covert, Colin (August 28, 1983). "High-Tech Hijinks Seven Curious Teenagers Wreak Havoc Via Computer". Detroit Free Press. p. 1F.
- Elmer-DeWitt, Philip (August 29, 1983). "The 414 Gang Strikes Again". Time. p. 75.
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- Enter Magazine, March 1984
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- David Bailey, "Attacks on Computers: Congressional Hearings and Pending Legislation", sp, p. 180, 1984 IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy, 1984.
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