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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 long-distance calls."

The Bundespost, West Germany's postal and telephone authority, admitted that the computer club had stumbled on a shortcoming in the BTX-Software.
The club's action has added to worries about computer vandalism and computer crime in West Germany - now that BTX is becoming more widespread.
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 Hamburger Sparkasse's.
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."


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