The Internet and 7th Sphere (1995-1996)
My home schooling continued through ninth grade, but I now had some new problems. My grades and test scores were excellent for my classes, but I was unable to perform any of the labs which were required by New York State law. However, since I had a medical condition, I was able to substitute special projects in lieu of lab work. My science teacher at the time suggested that I write an article about the Internet, which was recently commercialized and opened up to people and businesses.
It was soon after that when I looked in the news paper to find a local Internet Service Provider. There were only a handful in Western New York during those early days. I decided on LocalNET, because they sent out a software package on floppy. I checked the mailbox every day for a week before it finally arrived. I remember installing the software package on my system - complete with the Netscape Navigator web browser, an FTP application, a Gopher application and another application labeled IRC.
I can’t tell you how many hours I spent that first week, learning, reading, and trying the applications out. I was also able to talk my parents into letting me get a faster modem - peace out 9600 baud, hello 28.8. I began working on my ninth grade lab paper, and completed it in record time as I was so infatuated with this new system. It wasn’t like AOL or Prodigy - I could find and nearly anything.
Of course, by this point my new favorite program wasn’t Netscape - it was simply labeled “IRC”. I remember connecting to IRC my first time, the text pouring across the screen and seeing all of the channels. There was everything from #Anarchy to #XXX. Being that I was a 14 year old shut in with self destructive tendencies, I immediately started hanging out in the #Anarchy channel.
What I found there was something pretty typical. It was more teenagers (a high concentration of them being a group of friends from Delaware) who were pretty much going through the same phases in life as me.. self destructive and self loathing. I didn’t care, my real life friends were knee deep in sports and highschool cheerleaders. This was finally an outlet for me where I could be a teenager - if only virtually.
Besides chat, there were some other things going on in the world of IRC which I found instantly appealing - a virtual turf war for who owned IRC #channels. I distinctly remember being constantly knocked off of IRC by people who seemed to possess some mystical skill, known as flooding. After talking to people, it seemed that there were inherent problems in both the IRC servers and the clients (mIRC anyone?). You could exploit these problems to literally knock people off the IRC server. If you knocked the whole channel out, you could literally claim ownership. The much coveted @channel operator symbol.
I was hooked.. like heroin hooked. Another person, named as Eric (aka Cashmere) began working on what he described simply as a flood protection script. I knew nothing about scripting, IRC, or programming in general, but I wanted to help because I simply thought it was cool. Within a few weeks, we were able to create a very basic script that would prevent people from being able to flood you off. It was called 7th Sphere.
I worked on 7th Sphere day and night. Soon, Eric had other important things to do with his life and I recruited some other help. Another person named Todd (aka Venum) picked up where Eric had left off. We began releasing these scripts on my local webspace account (localnet.com/~marcraz/) and they soon began having an underground following across IRC. We built in features like flood control, multiple flood bots, version spoofing, automatic channel take over features, and much more.
We were notorious. Our version 2.666 release was the top downloaded IRC script in the world at that time. People across all IRC networks were using it, and our popularity grew at an astounding rate. Hundreds of people were hanging out in our IRC channel.
It was at this point where we decided to leverage our popularity and started asking for donations so we could purchase a domain name and get some higher quality web hosting. I will never forget the first letter I got in the mail - it came from Belgium and it was from another teenager who said the flood protection had saved him multiple times, and he felt it was a worthwhile investment. Soon after that, more and more letters came in. They came from all over the US and from across the world. Most of the donations were small, and some were just postcards from people wanting to say “hello” and “thank you”.
I will never forget the day I received a letter from an attorneys office in Salt Lake City, Utah. My mother frowned as she gave it to me, and I was afraid to open it. I figured someone was suing me and that I was going to be grounded and in the deepest shit of my life. I can’t tell you how surprised I was when I opened it, and it was a $50 check from an attorney named Benjamin. He was an avid IRC user who had been using 7th Sphere and felt that it was a small price to pay for keeping him from getting constantly flooded off.
At that point, we had enough money to register 7thsphere.com, and pay for some better web hosting. I gave the money to my parents, and they let me use their credit card to make my purchases. A couple of us put together a new website, which featured information about the script, some user forums, and much more.
At that point, Todd and I took on another person to help us with the script. His name was Andrew (aka Rhad) and he was a C++ programmer. One night, while sitting on IRC, we experienced first hand one of the first major windows networking stack overflows. A malformed OOB packet could be sent to a user, and would instantly cause a BSOD on the end users machine. Andrew quickly captured a packet and developed a stand alone windows application to send one of these packets out - he called it pestilence. Soon after, he began developing all kinds of applications for 7th Sphere including a port scanner, an ICMP DoS flooding utility, an ICMP flood detection utility, an IRC tunneling program, and some others.
Our next release would be the largest, and the last release of the IRC script. It was titled 7th Sphere 3.0, and it featured all of Rhad’s apps, as well as a highly advanced script. We had built in custom sound effects, dynamic menus, and everything under the sun that you needed to be protected and well armed on IRC.
It received so many downloads in the first 12 hours, that we saturated the entire 30mbit pipe at our hosting provider. I will never forget their network admin calling my house at 1AM to see if I could get a couple of mirrors going, because it was causing such a disturbance among their other customers.
This script also contained what I believe to be one of the first examples of a dynamic botnet. Users could create a private IRC channel and literally bridge their connections together to perform denial of service attacks on other people. These DoS attacks started off as simple IRC commands, but later grew into the ability to send ICMP echo attacks.
It was around this time when I started to get much more into the web development end of things. I started using 7thsphere.com as sort of a clearing house for all of the ideas that I came up with. I taught myself HTML, Photoshop, and Perl. Some of the sites that I developed were: “The HPVAC Shop” - a hacking, phreaking, virus, anarchy, and cracking site. It contained numerous downloads that would probably put me in jail today. The next was a site called “Slackers” - it was an school essay site where people could post up and download essays. I actually wrote a flat file database system for this without knowing what a database really was. I developed a site called “The List” - which allowed people to post up and download lists of warez and mp3 dumps. It didn’t take long for us to reach our one millionth unique hit.
In early 1997, two other major developments took place in my life. The first one happened in the winter. I met a local guy on IRC who had used 7th Sphere and was having a netmeet at a local bowling alley. He turned out to be a good guy, and we became friends. However, it was his sister Alison who I really hit it off with. After years without a girlfriend, I suddenly had one, and I think that helped me start to feel a little bit more normal.
Soon after that, another strange thing started happening. After four years of being sick with chronic fatigue syndrome, I actually started to feel a little bit better.