The kremvax hoax

|  intro  |

A hoax that shocked the (in the sense of networking still mostly American) world.
It was 1984, and the world was still in the middle of the Cold War, so any form of network connectivity to any East Block country, let alone the USSR, was unthinkable and considered a direct threat to (US) national security, as was the idea of modern computer technology (Digital Equipment Corporation's 'VAX') being in the hands of the Soviets. Konstantin Chernenko was prime minister of the USSR, General Secretary of the Communist Party and head of the 'Politburo' (where the real power resided in that time) in 1984.
Here's the original Usenet article:

|  article  |

From chernenko@kremvax.UUCP Sun Apr  1 15:02:52 1984
Relay-Version: version B 2.10.1 6/24/83 (MC840302); site mcvax.UUCP
Posting-Version: version B 2.10.1 4/1/84 (SU840401); site kremvax.UUCP
Path: mcvax!moskvax!kremvax!chernenko
From: chernenko@kremvax.UUCP
Newsgroups: net.general,eunet.general,net.politics,eunet.politics
Subject: USSR on Usenet
Message-ID: <0001@kremvax.UUCP>
Date: Sun, 1-Apr-84 15:02:52 GMT
Article-I.D.: kremvax.0001
Posted: Sun Apr  1 15:02:52 1984
Date-Received: Mon, 1-Apr-84 12:26:02 GMT
Organization: MIIA, Moscow
Lines: 41


Well, today, 840401, this is at last the Socialist Union of Soviet
Republics joining the Usenet network and saying hallo to everybody.

One reason for us to join this network has been to have a means of
having an open discussion forum with the American and European people
and making clear to them our strong efforts towards attaining peaceful
coexistence between the people of the Soviet Union and those of the
United States and Europe.

We have been informed that on this network many people have given strong
anti-Russian opinions, but we believe they have been misguided by their
leaders, especially the American administration, who is seeking for war
and domination of the world.
By well informing those people from our side we hope to have a possibility
to make clear to them our intentions and ideas.

Some of those in the Western world, who believe in the truth of what we
say have made possible our entry on this network; to them we are very
grateful. We hereby invite you to freely give your comments and opinions.

Here are the data for our backbone site:

Name: moskvax
Organization: Moscow Institute for International Affairs
Contact: K. Chernenko
Phone: +7 095 840401
Postal-Address: Moscow, Soviet Union
Electronic-Address: mcvax!moskvax!kremvax!chernenko
News: mcvax kremvax kgbvax
Mail: mcvax kremvax kgbvax

And now, let's open a flask of Vodka and have a drink on our entry on
this network. So:


	K. Chernenko, Moscow, USSR

|  followup  |

Obviously the article caused a flood of reactions, especially from the US, and of course I had taken care that they were all directed to my own mailbox.
After 2 weeks, when some people had started worrying about the costs (!) the discussion about the "hoax-or-for-real" was causing on Usenet (costs? sure, most of the network then was still a dialup network and modems were very slow), I reveiled the real source, while including some of the reactions I got.
Here's how it ended:

|  unraveled  |

From: piet@mcvax.UUCP (Piet Beertema)
Posting-Version: version B 2.10.1 6/24/83 (MC840302); site mcvax.UUCP
Newsgroups: net.followup,eunet.followup
Subject: USSR on Usenet: The Mystery Unraveled
Message-ID: <5779@mcvax.UUCP>
Date: Sun, 15-Apr-84 13:53:11 EST
Article-I.D.: mcvax.5779
Posted: Sun Apr 15 13:53:11 1984
Date-Received: Sun, 15-Apr-84 23:41:56 EST
Organization: CWI, Amsterdam
Lines: 298

Well then, here we are, two weeks after the Big Bang

Thanks to all of you, netpals, who replied to my "USSR on Usenet" article.
Reading all your replies really made worth while the forging I had to do
hide the real origin. There were only a few negative responses. So humour
still prevails in this (net)world. 'Sorry' for those who took this April
Fool so bloody serious...... (I got serious letters more than 3 pages long!)
Thanks also to those over here for the suggestions that eventually led to
this article.
Here's a summary of the responses, some of them with a comment.

    Not afraid to at last reveal the real source...
	Piet Beertema

P.S. Sorry I had to explicitly state the date (twice) in the article body;
     otherwise it might have fooled more people; but the risk of the news
     software mangling the date in the header was just too bad).


	And April Fool to you too, Komrade!
	As for the real discussions in politics: it was Mr. Chernenko,
	not any single member of the Sovjet people, who was allowed
	on the net April the 1st.
(I AM a single member of the Soviet people, comrade!  Chernenko.)
	Where is Reagan's opener? Does he have a terminal?
	(Can he use one? Wargames, perhaps? Encrypted mail?)
(No, he can't: has to keep his fingers on the trigger...)
	This isn't funny. I hope you get so much mail in response to this
	that you're reading it for a week straight. F**k you.
(I did. And enjoyed it! Fuck me? Ain't no chick, pal. motss perhaps?)
	Gee, I thought that every time Russia tried to buy a VAX, customs came
	along and filled the boxes with concrete.
	get out of our network!!!
	chto eto za govno? ya ne veryu to chto ya chitayu v pyervom 
(Sorry, but my Russian isn't what is used to be.... Cherny.)
	Hmmm, "kgbvax," I like that one.  Enjoy.
	Your message sounds like a prepared speech!
(It sure was....!)
	If your net contact is used as another channel for government-
	authored propaganda, not too many of us will be interested in
	reading your messages.
	Many Americans will tend to dismiss your attitude as "typical Soviet
	xenophobia," and I warn you that you will manage to persuade very
	few people to change their minds (I tried some months ago to do so
	on the net, and gave up in disgust).
	Do you have wombats in Mother Russia?
	So let's open a bottle of Wild Turkey and celebrate this (he
	says modestly) historical event: CHEERS!!!
	Gosh, does sending this letter put in the files of the CIA & KGB???
(Sure bet! And don't forget the CWI!)
	If you receive this, and the network doesn't send back an
	'unknown address' message to me, then you may not be kidding around,
	pulling everyone's leg.
(it will, from now on)
	Is this for real? Honest-to-god Russia? Gee. I never thought that I'd
	see it. Does this imply that Unix is behind the Iron curtain?
(Isn't that where at least the encryption algorithm came from?)
	Perhaps you are not aware, but the standard phrase "misguided by
	their leaders...seeking for war and domination of the world" is one of
	those things we have heard in those exact words so many times that
	it is a subject of humor to our comedians and satirical writers.
(Well, how about this satirical writer?)
	It will be interesting to see which newsgroups you wind up
	participating in.
(net.nuclear and net.jokes....)
	How cute! Where does this end up, anyway?
(In my mailbox... Piet)
	(Oh yeah... you forgot :-) )
(Sorry for that; can happen with a novice.... Cherny)
	Very Clever April 1 ........
	This sounds like a joke, but what the heck! Here we go:
	Welcome to the world of USENET. First, let me congratulate you on
	getting funds approved for your telephone expenses. It must be pretty
	expensive to read all this garbage that the net is flooded with every
	day. Are you actually typing from the Kremlin? Wow! I didn't think any
	information can get out of there without being thoroughly checked,
	approved, rechecked and all that, and that can take days! How long, I
	wonder will it be before I recieve your response to this mail? You will
	respond, won't you?
(Of course...)
	Welcome! [From an isolated CIA outpost]
(Then why didn't you send your mail to 'kgbvax'.....?
 Actually no one did. Pity.)
	<Is this for real?  Can we have confirmation from someone who is 
	<recognized as being in a position to know?
	It is indeed for real.  I am in a position to know (supine).
	I knew there was a path to the Russians on the net!  Now at
	last we can exchange netnews messages about high school reunions
	and our latest cryptoanalytic results.  Thank you eversomuch.
	The posting date was April 1, which is generally what we call "April
	Fool's Day".  Sometimes good practical jokes are played on that day.
	I have a strong feeling that USSR on the net is an April Fool's joke.
(So do I...)
	Hmmm.... I just wonder who 'kgbvax' is....  :-(
(That's 'ciavax', only spelled eastward :-))
	I'm the night operator and don't have any vodca so will
	a hot pot of coffee do... Well I better go back to work,
	just wanted to say HI and welcome.
	Today is the April 1 1984, also known as the April Fool's day.
	Whose leg you are pulling? :-)
	We in capitalist America have received your first message and
	one simple thought pops into the minds of many a capitalist
	computer interfacer such as myself:  ARE YOU FOR REAL?
	Please reply.  We in the "buying is being" world would like to
	know for sure if you exist.
	Also, how do you get vaxes?  From Sweden, or South Africa?
(From Malaysia, El Salvador, Indonesia etc.)
	I am most pleased to see that our friends in Russia have joined
	the uucp network. Greetings (sorry I know no Russian).
	You will find the politics in Canada, or at least my politics,
	much less strident than many of the articles in usenet originating
	from the American Institutions.
	That was a nice April Fool's joke! How did you do it?
(By spending a nice Sunday afternoon on this:
 1. change the sendmail configuration table to deflect all mails for
    "moskvax" to my mailbox;
 2. disable uucico;
 3. post the article;
 4. forge the article's header (also trying to take care of the time
    difference between Moscow and Amsterdam...);
 5. re-enable uucico;
 6. start up all connections to spread the article as quick as possible.
    [And that's where is almost went wrong: couldn't get a connection to
     decvax that whole day! Perhaps decvax playing April Fool on me???]
That's all...)
	I found this article in extremely poor taste.
	The person who fudged this up clearly has access rights to their
	site's news facilities. If I worked there I'd be somewhat worried
	about security.
(No one else is, since they all know the meaning of April 1...;
 [This one came from Scotland; must have been very bad weather there...])
	War of the Worlds, creationism...  Now I understand.  The person in
	the best "positon to know" is P. T. Barnum.  His opinion is in the
	public domain.
	Kudos to the perpetrator!  "moscvax", "kremvax" -- truly inspired!
	If everyone compares paths, we can figure out what machine the
	perpetrator used.
(Save your energy; here he is)
	Interesting that whoever did this (well done, by the way!) picked
	"vax" as the machine suffix. Don't you know what happens to VAXen
	that try to go to the USSR? (They get stopped in Sweden and it makes
	headlines in North America.) (-:
(Since the Russians spell "Moskva", the suffix was just 'x'.... :-))
	Have you ever considered the profession of private investigator?
	Good Show!
	I want to voice my support of those who feel that the "April Fool's"
	joke about the USSR on the USENET was bad form. Particularly when it
	appeared in what many of us had come to rely on as the authoritative
	source for nuews about the network.
(net.politics you mean?)
	Perhaps that individual should also be informed that April Fool's Day
	is not the widespread celebration (?) that we in the US, in our
	culturo-centric way, may sometimes think it is.
(For your information: it IS!)
	It looks as if there is at least one fool on this network.
	<From the ever smiling, ever happy fingers of:.....
(Right! One with ever smiling fingers....)
	Did you seriously believe that a K. Chernenko at moskvax!kremvax
	really exists?  kremvax?  moskvax?  Come on!
	I cant believe people actually are getting upset over a simple joke.
	When I first read the article, I was borderline on believing until I
	got to the KGBvax signature. I thought it was very humurous and not
	at all in bad taste. It certainly didnt take any more phone costs to
	post that and generate reponses than any of the other lame-brain
	articles one sometimes reads on the net.
(I agree! Especially when my finger is hurting from hitting the 'n' key!)
	There have been some people who thought that planting of this rather
	hilarious piece was somehow in "bad taste", because they genuinely
	thought a new era of Soviet-U.S. cooperation was at hand.
(...and were too busy/sleepy to look at all the references
 to the date...)
	Seems to imply that mcvax itself is the culprit.
(Good work!)
	kgbvax? kremvax? Chernenko actually use a terminal? Do you really
	believe all that? Would you like to buy some desert land? 
	The article did exactly what an April Fool's joke is supposed to do -
	make a lot of people act like fools, if only for a few minutes.
	Don't bother searching for the Mad Muscovite.
	If I had the capability to make a path that included moskvax and
	kremvax, would I include MY site name also?
	I hope we NEVER find out who did it. Somebody will probably want to
	sack him/her for "poor taste", when it was actually quite clever.
(Never mind: sack > /dev/null)
	The USSR joins the net article did not arrive here 1 April.
	Is there not a convention that jokes that are not obvious
	contain the :-) symbol?
(See P.S. above; see explicit date and phonenumber(!) in article)
	Subject: Know News Versions in use
	version B 2.10.1 4/1/83 (SU840401)
(Shouldn't computers be told about April 1 too?)
	I am extremely happy at this chance to talk. Let us see where
	this leads us. At present this is a private letter to you. If
	our correspondance begins to make sense, we shall start posting it.
	The article was obviously a prank, from the subject header on
	down. The thing that bothers me are the people who say things
	like '[using the network as a reliable source of information.]' HAH.
	But the reference to the beginning of April was a dead giveaway,
	and it was meant to be.
(Yes. See P.S. above)
	I should have been more on my guard, and you can bet I will
	be next year!" 
	...would anyone be willing to serve as a Soviet gateway site?
(I can honestly state mcvax, as the gateway to continental
 Europe, will)
	The April Fool's day posting from kremvax was the most refreshing
	thing I've seen on usenet.  To those who ask - "How would you feel
	if it came from ciavax or fbivax?" - I wish I had been imaginative
	enough to have posted a reply from ciavax!
(I wish you had...)
	C'mon guys. Do you expect that a letter from Ronald Reagan on the
	USENET would be legitimate? Than why did you expect such from the
(Would you expect a letter from ANY politician on USENET?)
	Dear sir,
	I am very glad to see that there is now a Soviet site on the net.
	Welcome. I am a computer science major at .....; I have class in
	a couple minute, so I will ask that you reply to this letter somehow.
	In fact, I thought that the author of it should have used a leading
	Russian scientist as his spokesperson, instead of Chernenko, to make
	it more believable.  Boy, did I overestimate Net intelligence!
	KGB Officers are university admissions personnel? AHA! THAT explains
	it! Now I know why the current crop of students are who they are...
	Selling them a VAX is likely to set them back ten years.


Well, thanks for your attention, Comrades. But right now I've got the Russian
Flu, so I'm afraid I won't see you again before April 1 next year!

	K. Chernenko

|  months later  |

From a reliable source I heard that this, eh... "problem" had been the subject of a serious discussion at the Pentagon about "how to deal with it". Wow! :-)

|  years later  |

Interestingly, what was a hoax then, turned into reality in the years that followed, when the political climate changed so dramatically that the (for some!) unthinkable became true: network connectivity to the East Block, culminating in even full IP connectivity!
And it was in 1991 that "kremvax" became reality too, when (with my official blessing ;-)) Vadim Antonov of Demos gave this name to one of his machines in Moscow: (and by the time that you read this, may still exist and be located in Moscow).
The rest is, like this hoax, history...

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