Cult of the Dead Cow

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Cult of the Dead Cow
PurposeHacking/DIY media
  • United States
Lubbock, Texas
Grandmaster Ratte'
Franken Gibe
Sid Vicious
The original e-zine
Back Orifice
Key people
Sir Dystic
The Deth Vegetable
Oxblood Ruffin
White Knight
Reid Fleming
Krass Katt
Lord Digital
Obscure Images
Tweety Fish
Lady Carolin
Count Zero
G.A. Ellsworth
Myles Long
Psychedelic Warlord (Beto O'Rourke)[2]
Ninja Strike Force
Legion of Doom
Masters of Deception
Sacrament of Transition
Hong Kong Blondes
ACiD Productions
Soulz at Zero
Neon Knights Edit this at Wikidata

Cult of the Dead Cow, also known as cDc or cDc Communications, is a computer hacker and DIY media organization founded in 1984 in Lubbock, Texas. The group maintains a weblog on its site, also titled "[Cult of the Dead Cow]". New media are released first through the blog, which also features thoughts and opinions of the group's members.


 _   _
[ x x ]
 \   /
 (' ')
cDc's ASCII art
cowskull logo

The group was formed in June 1984 at the Farm Pac slaughterhouse by Grandmaster Ratte' (aka Swamp Ratte'), Franken Gibe, Sid Vicious, and three BBS SysOps. [a]

In the 1980s the Cult of the Dead Cow organized and maintained a loose collective of affiliated BBSs across the US and Canada. It was during this time that the cDc is credited with coining the term "31337" as an alternative spelling of "Eleet" or "Elite",[3] an expression denoting skill or greatness in a person, place, or thing.

In December 1990, cDc member Jesse Dryden (aka Drunkfux), the son of Jefferson Airplane drummer Spencer Dryden and grand nephew of Charlie Chaplin, created HoHoCon. It was the first modern hacker conference, which invites the participation of both journalists and law enforcement. It is usually held in Houston, Texas. In all, dFx hosted five annual HoHoCons.[citation needed]

In 1991, cDc was named "Sassiest Underground Computer Group" by Sassy magazine.[4] Also in 1991, the group began distributing music in the form of cassette tape albums sold through its post office box. Many of these albums are now available online in their entirety.

October 1994 saw the creation of the cDc's Usenet newsgroup,[5] It was thus the first hacking group to have its own Usenet newsgroup.[citation needed] In November of that year, the group claimed responsibility for giving Ronald Reagan Alzheimer's disease, claiming to have done so in 1986 with a blowgun.[6]

The cDc declared war on the Church of Scientology in 1995 during the alt.religion.scientology controversy,[7][8] stating

We believe that El Ron Hubbard [sic] is actually none other than Heinrich Himmler of the SS, who fled to Argentina and is now responsible for the stealing of babies from hospitals and raising them as 'super-soldiers' for the purpose of overthrowing the U.S. Fed. Govt. in a bloody revolution. We fear plans for a 'Fourth Reich' to be established on our home soil under the vise-like grip of oppression known as Scientology!

In 1997, the cDc began distributing original MP3-format music on its website.[9]

In August 1998, they presented their popular Back Orifice tool at DEF CON 6.

In February 2000, the cDc was the subject of an 11-minute documentary short titled "Disinformation". Also in February 2000, cDc member Mudge briefed President Bill Clinton on Internet security.[10]

cDc communications[edit]

cDc communications is the parent organisation of Cult of the Dead Cow, one of three groups that fall under cDc communications. The other two are the Ninja Strike Force and Hacktivismo.

Ninja Strike Force[edit]

In 1996, the cDc announced the birth of its Ninja Strike Force, a group of "ninja" dedicated to achieving the goals of the cDc, an intervention task force both online and offline.[11] The cDc opened the NSF Dojo[12] in 2004. An "NSF Dojo" Member also operates a streaming radio station, which features recordings of hacker con presentations and other educational programming in addition to a wide range of musical styles and artists.

Membership in the NSF is granted by the cDc to those individuals who stand out in their support of the cDc and its ideals. Members are recognized for their abilities, capabilities, and being the best of the best in their skills.

In 2006 the Ninja Strike Force launched its own microsite.[13]


In late 1999, the cDc created Hacktivismo, an independent group under the cDc communications umbrella dedicated to the creation of anti-censorship technology in furtherance of human rights on the Internet. The group's beliefs are described fully in The Hacktivismo Declaration, which seeks to apply the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to the Internet.[14] Among Hacktivismo's beliefs include access to information as a basic human right. The organization partially shares Critical Art Ensemble's (CAE) belief in the value of secrecy, but challenges both with CAE and many hacktivists on the subject of civil disobedience. The cDc model is, instead, one of disruptive compliance.[15] Disruptive, in this case, refers to disruptive technology; compliance refers back to the Internet and its original intent of constructive free-flow and openness.[16] Hacktivismo has also authored its own software license agreement, the Hacktivismo Enhanced-Source Software License Agreement, which is source available (but not open source).[17] Their work focuses on the development of software that empowers conduct forbidden by repression, rather than enabling (private or public) attacks on repressors.[15] In general cDc hopes that open code can become the lingua franca of a hacktivism that seeks to wage peace, not war. While the term isn't used, the software described in cDc's "Waging of Peace on the Internet"[18] would create a set of connections between dissidents that sound in technoliberationist terms, rhizomatic.[15]

Crossover associations with other groups[edit]

cDc members at Defcon in 1999
cDc members at Defcon in 1999

In addition to the obvious associations between Cult of the Dead Cow, Hacktivismo, and the Ninja Strike Force, the cDc also has crossover associations with several other organizations. These include the L0pht; founding members White Knight and Count Zero and final members Dildog and Mudge are all members of cDc. Additionally, The Nightstalker was a member of Youth International Party Line/Technology Assistance Program. Lord Digital, one of the founders of Mindvox, is a former member of LOD/H and a current member of the Sacrament of Transition. Red Knight was a member of the Masters of Deception. Also, RaD Man, a member of the Ninja Strike Force, is one of the founders of ACiD Productions. Another NSF member, Mark Hinge, is a founding member of the British hacker group The Syndicate Of London. Flack, another Ninja Strike Force member, was a co-founder of the horror "lit group" Soulz at Zero. Mudge later went on to program manage the CINDER program at DARPA, which aimed to detect 'insider threats' like the WikiLeaks sources.[19]

Electronic publication[edit]

During the 1980s, the cDc was well known throughout the BBS scene for their underground ezine, also called Cult of the Dead Cow.[20] The group claims to have invented the ezine.

The Cult of the Dead Cow has been credited with coining the term "elite" as used in the hacker scene/computer underground in cDc textfiles of the 1980s.[21][22][23]

The ezine has led to some criticism of the group over the years; in a 1994 episode of Geraldo entitled "Computer Vice," Geraldo Rivera referred to the group as "a bunch of sickos" for having published an article called "Sex with Satan," originally published in 1988.[24][25]


In 1996, cDc member Omega used the term "hacktivism" in an email to other group members.[26] The group has been active in hacktivist causes since that time.

Hong Kong Blondes[edit]

In the late 1990s, the cDc claimed to have worked with a group of Chinese dissidents called "The Hong Kong Blondes." The group’s ostensible goal was to disrupt computer networks within the People's Republic of China in order to allow citizens to access censored content online. The Hong Kong Blondes were, ostensibly, one of the first hacktivist groups, though the group's existence and actions have proven to be an invented fiction. The cDc first spoke about the group publicly in a presentation at the 1997 Beyond HOPE Conference held at The Puck Building in New York City.[27] Members claimed to have advised the group on strong encryption techniques.[28][29][30][31] The cDc formally severed ties with the Hong Kong Blondes in December 1998.[32] In 2015, former cDc member Oxblood Ruffin claimed without evidence that the hacking activities attributed to the Hong Kong Blondes were an invention intended to create a diversion and cover for the extraction of several Chinese pro-democracy activists.[33] When asked about the group during a White House meeting in February 2000 organized by then National Security Advisor Richard A. Clarke with President Bill Clinton, Mudge admitted "We made them up."[34]


On January 7, 1999, the cDc joined with an international coalition of hackers to denounce a call to cyberwar against the governments of China and Iraq.[35]

Milošević trial[edit]

When questioning Patrick Ball during his International War Crimes Tribunal in 2002, Slobodan Milošević asked Ball about his relationship with the cDc.[36] Ball had given a talk and been a member of a cDc-sponsored panel on hacktivism[37] at DEF CON 9 in 2001.

Goolag campaign[edit]

In early 2006, the cDc launched the "Goolag" (a play on gulag, Soviet forced labour camps) campaign in response to Google's decision to comply with China's Internet censorship policy and censor search results in the mainland-Chinese version of its search engine. The campaign consists primarily of the use of a parody of Google's logo which reads "Goolag: Exporting censorship, one search at a time."[38][39][40] The group encouraged readers to make t-shirts and other merchandise and donate any proceeds from their sale to Human Rights in China.

Students for a Free Tibet held an anti-Google rally in Dharamsala, India on February 14, 2006, employing the logo in a variety of ways.[41] The cDc then issued a press release about the campaign, wherein it described Microsoft, Yahoo!, Google, and Cisco as the "Gang of Four" due to their respective policies of compliance with the Beijing government's Internet policies. The United States Congress was also called out on this issue in the release.[42] This press release, originally entitled "Congress jerks off, gang of four reach for raincoats," was picked up by many news sources, as an abbreviated version of it was distributed by PR Web (with the altered title of "Cult of the Dead Cow (cDc) Launches Campaign Against Internet Censorship in China").[43]


The cDc has released several tools, for both hackers/system administrators and for the general public. Many of these are related to computer security and are sometimes dubbed "hacker tools".

The Automated Prayer Project[edit]

The Automated Prayer Project,[44] written by Javaman, is "a VT420 connected to a Sun Ultra5 via a serial cable which displays the output of a continuously running program. The signaling rate is limited to 9600 baud. The program itself cycles through the Rosary, displaying a new individual prayer once every thirty seconds. Each individual prayer is then sent out via UDP to a random machine on the Internet on a random port."

Back Orifice[edit]

Back Orifice (often shortened to BO) is a computer program designed for remote system administration. It enables a user to control a computer running Microsoft Windows operating system from a remote location. The name is a pun on Microsoft BackOffice Server software. The program debuted at DEF CON 6 on August 1, 1998. It was the brainchild of Sir Dystic. According to the group, its purpose was to demonstrate the lack of security in Microsoft's operating system Windows 98.[45]

Back Orifice 2000[edit]

Back Orifice Release By The cDc at Defcon00
Back Orifice Release By The cDc at Defcon7

Back Orifice 2000 (often shortened to BO2k) is a computer program that is similar in function to Back Orifice. Back Orifice 2000 debuted on July 10, 1999 at DEF CON 7. The original code was written by Dildog. Whereas the original Back Orifice was limited to the Windows 95 and Windows 98 operating systems, BO2k also supports Windows NT, Windows XP and Windows 2000. Some BO2k client functionality has also been implemented for *nix-systems. In addition, BO2k was released under the GPL.[46] As of 2012, BO2k is being actively developed.[47]


Camera/Shy, originally called Peek-a-Booty, [48] was the first Hacktivismo project released. It debuted in 2002 at the H.O.P.E. 2k2 convention in New York City. It is a steganographic tool that scans for and delivers decrypted content directly from the world wide web.[49]


NBName is a computer program that can be used to carry out denial-of-service attacks that can disable NetBIOS services on Windows machines. It was written by Sir Dystic and released July 29, 2000 at the DEF CON 8 convention in Las Vegas.


ScatterChat is an encrypted instant messaging client based on Gaim. It was written by J. Salvatore Testa II and released at the H.O.P.E. Number Six conference in New York City on July 22, 2006. It provides encryption as well as integrated onion routing with Tor, and secure file transfers.[50][51] Various flaws in the software have been elaborated by researchers.[52][53]

The Six/Four System[edit]

The Six/Four System is a censorship-resistant network proxy written by Mixter, a member of both cDc and Hacktivismo. It works by using "trusted peers" to relay network connections over SSL encrypted links.[54] Hacktivismo and the cDc further gained notoriety in 2003 when the Six/Four System became the first product of a hacker group to receive approval from the United States Department of Commerce for export of strong encryption.[55]

SMBRelay and SMBRelay2[edit]

SMBRelay and SMBRelay2 are computer programs that can be used to carry out SMB man-in-the-middle attacks on Windows machines. They were written by Sir Dystic and released March 21, 2001 at the @lantacon convention in Atlanta, Georgia.


XeroBank Browser (formerly known as Torpark) is a variant of the Portable Firefox web browser with Tor built into it. Torpark is intended for use on portable media such as a USB flash drive but it can also be used on any hard disk drive. cDc/Hacktivismo co-released v. along with Steve Topletz on September 19, 2006.[56][57][58]


Veilid is a peer-to-peer network and application framework, described as "like Tor, but for apps".[59][60] It was released on August 11, 2023 at DEF CON 31 in Las Vegas.[61][62]


RFP at Defcon 7 or Defcon 8
RFP talking to some journalists at Defcon 7 in 1999.

Whisker is a project authored by Rain Forest Puppy that is no longer in development. It checked for thousands of known security vulnerabilities in web servers.[63] Whisker Version 1.4 was co-released by the cDc at DEF CON 8 in 2000.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The slaughterhouse, a hangout of many Lubbock youth, was burned down in 1996. The burned out building was used as a haunted house for several Halloweens after that. In 2001, the grounds surrounding it were converted into the "West Texas Canyon Amphitheater" and re-opened as the Lone Star Amphitheater in 2006)


  1. ^ "Cult of the Dead Cow Membership List". Archived from the original on May 6, 2015. Retrieved May 13, 2015.
  2. ^ "Beto O'Rourke's secret membership in America's oldest hacking group". March 15, 2019. Retrieved March 15, 2019.
  3. ^ Mello, John P.(2015) "Google Expands Bug Bounty Program" February 2, 2015. E-Commerce Times
  4. ^ Chiesa, Raoul et al(2008). Profiling Hackers: The Science of Criminal Profiling as Applied to the World of Hacking, p. 223. CRC Press.
  5. ^ "Google Groups".
  6. ^ Fleming, Reid (November 1, 1994). "Official cDc Press Release Concerning President Reagan". Cult of the Dead Cow. Archived from the original on March 16, 2006. Retrieved April 20, 2006.
  7. ^ Swamp Ratte' (June 4, 1995). "Statement Concerning the 'Church' of Scientology". Cult of the Dead Cow. Archived from the original on March 16, 2006. Retrieved June 14, 2006.
  8. ^ Leyden, John. "Critics split over DDoS attacks on Scientology." The Register, January 25, 2008. Retrieved January 29, 2008.
  9. ^ "'Kingpin' by Weasel-MX". cDc communications. June 27, 1997. Archived from the original on March 16, 2006. Retrieved April 20, 2006.
  10. ^ Young, Steve, Major Garrett, and the Associated Press. "Clinton fights hackers with a Hacker Archived 2006-05-25 at the Wayback Machine." CNN Online 15 February 2000 retrieved 20 April 2006
  11. ^ "Press Release". cDc communications. October 22, 1996. Archived from the original on March 16, 2006. Retrieved April 20, 2006.
  12. ^ "Invision Power Services CIC Default Page". Archived from the original on 20 February 2008. Retrieved 4 May 2016.
  13. ^ "Cult of the Dead Cow: Ninja Strike Force". Archived from the original on 6 April 2016. Retrieved 4 May 2016.
  14. ^ Ruffin, Oxblood (July 4, 2001). "The Hacktivismo Declaration - International bookburning in progress". Cult of the Dead Cow. Archived from the original on April 22, 2006. Retrieved July 20, 2006.
  15. ^ a b c Wardrip-Fruin, Noah and Nick Montfort, ed (2003). The New Media Reader. pp.782. The MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-23227-8.
  16. ^ Ruffin, Oxblood. "Waging Peace on the Internet."
  17. ^ Ruffin, Oxblood and Eric Grimm. "Hacktivismo Enhanced-Source Software License Agreement Archived 2012-02-04 at the Wayback Machine." November 26, 2002. Retrieved July 19, 2006.
  18. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-05-13. Retrieved 2010-04-29.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  19. ^ Darpa’s Star Hacker Looks to WikiLeak-Proof Pentagon, Spencer Ackerman, Wired, August 31, 2010, retr 2011 12 5
  20. ^ "Cult of the Dead Cow". Archived from the original on September 23, 2015. Retrieved 4 May 2016.
  21. ^ McFadden (July 19, 2021). "'Leetspeak' 101: What Exactly Is It?". Interesting Engineering. Retrieved July 20, 2021.
  22. ^ Grammarist (3 October 2016). "Leet, leetspeak and 1337". Grammaristg. Retrieved July 20, 2021.
  23. ^ Mello, John P. (February 2, 2015). "Google Expands Bug Bounty Program". E-Commerce Times.
  24. ^ Psycoe (February 7, 1988). "Sex with Satan". Cult of the Dead Cow. Archived from the original on June 23, 2007. Retrieved June 29, 2007.
  25. ^ "Computer Vice." Geraldo episode, April 17, 1994. Referenced here (archived version) and here (archived version), both retrieved July 24, 2006.
  26. ^ Mills, Elinor. ""Old-time hacktivists: Anonymous, you've crossed the line"." CNet News, March 30, 2012. Retrieved March 30, 2012.
  27. ^ cDC, Members (August 1997). Beyond HOPE: Cult of the Dead Cow and World Domination (Speech). Beyond HOPE. New York City. Archived from the original on 2021-12-13. Retrieved 20 August 2019.
  28. ^ Hesseldahl, Arik. "Hacking for Human Rights?." Wired News July 14, 1998. Retrieved July 19, 2006.
  29. ^ McKay, Niall. "China: The Great Firewall." Wired News December 1, 1998. Retrieved July 19, 2006.
  30. ^ Ruffin, Oxblood (July 15, 1998). "The Longer March". Cult of the Dead Cow. Archived from the original on March 16, 2006. Retrieved July 19, 2006.
  31. ^ Ruffin, Oxblood (December 23, 1998). "Chinese Checkers". Archived from the original on March 16, 2006. Retrieved July 19, 2006.
  32. ^ "It's splitsville for the cult of the dead cow and the Hong Kong blondes". Cult of the Dead Cow. December 15, 1998. Archived from the original on March 16, 2006. Retrieved July 19, 2006.
  33. ^ Ruffin, Oxblood (March 23, 2015). "Blondie Wong And The Hong Kong Blondes hacking, human rights, and hype". Medium. Archived from the original on August 30, 2015. Retrieved February 1, 2016.
  34. ^ Menn, Joseph (2019). Cult of the Dead Cow: How the Original Hacking Supergroup Might Just Save the World. PublicAffairs. p. 115.
  35. ^ 2600: The Hacker Quarterly; Chaos Computer Club; Cult of the Dead Cow; !Hispahack; L0pht Heavy Industries; Phrack; Pulhas (January 7, 1999). "Hackers on planet earth against infowar". Archived from the original on March 16, 2006. Retrieved April 20, 2006.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  36. ^ Macki. "milosevic and the cDc." Politech listserv, March 17, 2002. Retrieved April 20, 2006.
  37. ^ "Hacktivism and Human Rights: Using Technology to Raise the Bar". Archived from the original on 2005-12-17. Retrieved 2006-01-08.
  38. ^ Krass Katt. "cDc launches global campaign against Google Archived 2006-07-16 at the Wayback Machine." Cult of the Dead Cow blog post, February 12, 2006. Retrieved July 19, 2006.
  39. ^ Jardin, Xeni. "Hacktivists parody Google logo for protest, China human rights fundraiser Archived 2006-08-06 at the Wayback Machine." Boing Boing blog post, February 12, 2006. Retrieved July 19, 2006.
  40. ^ Dach, Clayton. "The Good, the Bad and the Google Archived 2006-09-26 at the Wayback Machine." AdBusters #65, May–June 2006. Online edition retrieved October 19, 2006.
  41. ^ Krass Katt. "Goolag/Google protest in Dharamsala Archived 2006-08-10 at the Wayback Machine." Cult of the Dead Cow blog post, February 14, 2006. Retrieved July 19, 2006.
  42. ^ Ruffin, Oxblood. "Congress jerks off, gang of four reach for raincoats Archived 2006-08-10 at the Wayback Machine." Cult of the Dead Cow Press Release, February 15, 2006. Retrieved July 19, 2006.
  43. ^ Ruffin, Oxblood. "Cult of the Dead Cow (cDc) Launches Campaign Against Internet Censorship in China." Cult of the Dead Cow Press Release, February 16, 2006. Retrieved July 19, 2006.
  44. ^ "Philtered". Archived from the original on 27 February 2009. Retrieved 4 May 2016.
  45. ^ cDc communications. "Back Orifice Press Release Archived 2012-02-27 at the Wayback Machine." Cult of the Dead Cow Press Release, July 21, 1998. Retrieved April 20, 2006.
  46. ^ cDc communications. "Back Orifice 2000 Press Release Archived 2005-03-05 at the Wayback Machine." Cult of the Dead Cow Press Release, July 10, 1999. Retrieved April 20, 2006.
  47. ^ "BO2K". Archived from the original on 2007-08-27. Retrieved 2007-08-17.
  48. ^ Camera/Shy Outflanks Net Content Censorship
  49. ^ Einhorn, Bruce. "Hackers to Beijing: Have a Cow!." Business Week online edition, August 5, 2002. Retrieved July 19, 2006.
  50. ^ Tectonic staff, "Secure messenger to guard against totalitarian governments Archived 2006-08-10 at the Wayback Machine." Tectonic, July 21, 2006. Retrieved July 24, 2006.
  51. ^ Doctorow, Cory, "ScatterChat: anonymous, secure chat Archived 2006-08-11 at the Wayback Machine." Boing Boing blog post, July 22, 2006. Retrieved July 24, 2006.
  52. ^ Murdoch, Steven J., "Protocol design is hard - Flaws in ScatterChat." Light Blue Touchpaper blog post, August 11, 2006. Retrieved February 6, 2007.
  53. ^ Schneier, Bruce, "ScatterChat." Schneier on Security blog post, July 31, 2006. Retrieved February 6, 2007.
  54. ^ Mixter. "Six/Four System Protocol Specs," 2003.
  55. ^ LaCroix, Norman E. "Hacktivismo_DoC_BIS.pdf Archived 2006-09-06 at the Wayback Machine." United States Department of Commerce, January 2003. Retrieved April 20, 2006.
  56. ^ "Hacktivismo Releases Torpark for Anonymous, Portable Web Browsing." Cult of the Dead Cow/Hacktivismo press release, September 19, 2006. Retrieved September 19, 2006.
  57. ^ "Free anonymising browser debuts." BBC News Online, September 20, 2006. Retrieved September 22, 2006.
  58. ^ Broersma, Matthew. "Activists unveil stealth browser Archived 2007-03-12 at the Wayback Machine." ZDNet, September 22, 2006. Retrieved September 22, 2006.
  59. ^ "Cult of the Dead Cow Launches Encryption Protocol to Save Your Privacy". Gizmodo. 2 August 2023.
  60. ^ Menn, Joseph (3 August 2023). "Hacking group plans system to encrypt social media and other apps". Washington Post.
  61. ^ "Press Release 2023-06-22". Cult of the Dead Cow.
  62. ^ Christien 'DilDog' Rioux; Katelyn 'Medus4' Bowden. "Launch Talk". Veilid. Retrieved 12 August 2023.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  63. ^ "Sleeping with the enemy". 13 August 2002. Retrieved 4 May 2016.

External links[edit]