I first became aware of Stephen Glass when my executive editor flipped a copy of the May 18 New Republic across my desk at Forbes Digital Tool (forbes.com), pointed to a story titled "Hack Heaven," and snapped, "Why didn't you write this?"

I retreated to my desk (muttering mostly untrue obscenities about my boss's heritage and hairstyle). But after reading the story I, too, was kicking myself for having missed it.

"Hack Heaven" detailed the exploits of Ian Restil, a 15-year-old computer hacker who broke into the computer system of Jukt Micronics, "a big-time software firm" in California. Once inside, the noxious teen posted every employee's salary on the company's web site alongside some nudie pictures, each bearing the caption, "THE BIG BAD BIONIC BOY HAS BEEN HERE BABY."

Instead of calling in the Feds--which, since hacking is a federal offense, is what most companies would do--Jukt executives hired Restil to show them how to protect their systems. To ensure he got top dollar, Restil hired an agent, Joe Hiert, described in the article as "super-agent to super-nerds." The magazine article also claimed such deals--which are more like digital protection rackets than legitimate business agreements-- have stymied prosecutors and that law enforcement officials in Nevada have become so desperate to stop companies from hiring hackers that they are sponsoring a series of radio advertisements: "Would you hire a shoplifter to watch the cash register? Please don't deal with hackers."

After I finished reading the story, I was stunned. I was not familiar with this software firm, nor had I ever come across any anti-hacker public service campaigns. Glass also cited anti-hacker legislation, a hacker organization, and a law enforcement agency that was news to me. I had been scooped by an inside-the- beltway reporter--and that hurt, since covering hackers is part of my beat.

I don't normally check other reporters' work, and I certainly had no intention of acting like some journalism cop, but something wasn't right. Either I was an egregiously irresponsible reporter acting as a cyber-poseur, or Stephen Glass was.

My first step was to phone Glass and request Ian Restil's number; Glass didn't return my call. This was not surprising. If another journalist called me for a hot source, I wouldn't be inclined to pony up either. I also emailed sections of Glass's story to some hacker contacts and plugged Jukt Micronics into several search engines. When I couldn't find a web site, I knew something was wrong. What "big-time" software company didn't have a web presence in 1998?

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