Computer club cracks Hamburg bank's password
By John Davies In Frankfurt
A COMPUTER club has caused embarrassment in West Germany by
cracking the secret code used by a bank in the country's videotext
network. By using the code, the club ran up a bill under which the
bank would have to pay it, DM 1.135,000 ($44,800).
The Chaos Computer Club, a group of computer enthusiasts who mostly
live in Hamburg, carrried out the stunt to show that the videotext-
system, Bildschirmtext(BTX), could be tampered with.
They hit on the password and code number used by the Hamburger
Sparkasse, the biggest savings bank group in the country and one of
the many banks which offer services through BTX.
"They did not, and could not, get into any data about customers' accounts,
" a bank official said yesterday. "It was as if someone
had broken into the bank and used the telephone to make a lot of
The Bundespost, West Germany's postal and telephone authority,
admitted that the computer club had stumbled on a shortcoming in the
The club's action has added to worries about computer vandalism and
computer crime in West Germany - now that BTX is becoming more
BTX is a communications system in which people can call up data via a
telephone and view it on a television screen.
Many banks show information in BTX about such services as lending and
stock market dealing. Some banks - though not yet the Hamburger
Sparkasse - have already attached their in-house Computer to the
system so that people can take bank transfers electronically from
borne with the aid of a simple keyboard.
Each BTX user has his secret code, and the ChaosComputerClub cracked
In the banks name, it then called up some of the club's own data
which is also offered through BTX. It called up special pages for which
the caller has to pay a fee of DM 9.97 to the club.
The club did this not just once, but more than 13,000 times during 13
hours last weekend. Being a tedious and repetitive job,
they programmed a computer to keep dialling for them, making a grand
total of DM 135,000 in fees.
"We assume we will not get a bill." a bank executive said yetterday.
Herr Stefan Wernery, a club member, said that it wanted to show
that no computer system was foolproof. Users must be protected as much
as possible, however, and this raised complex legal and political
questions, he said.
Until now, the Bundespost had been reluctant to admit that tampering
was possible, he added.
The club is a loosely knit group of people who use computers at work
or as a hobby. Herr Wernery is vague about how. Many members there are.
"We don't need to meet',he said. 'We communicate by computer."