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If You Build It, They Will Con (fwd)

---------- Forwarded message ----------

Date: Wed, 16 Jul 1997 11:09:05 -0400

From: "Anthony F. Navarro" <anavarro@inch.com>

Subject: If You Build It, They Will Con

>From the Netly News  -Anthony


             July 15, 1997

 If You Build It, They Will Con 

  by Declan McCullagh 


     Perhaps the thinking behind DefCon went something like this: Lure

hundreds of hackers to Las Vegas in the middle of the summer, ply them with

cheap beer, talk about packet sniffing, and observe. Last year the result

was self-organizing chaos, capped by an event where the hired strippers

were upstaged by a band of exhibitionist conferencegoers. "The pimp was

like, 'Oh my God,'" says Dark Tangent, DefCon's organizer. 

     Last weekend's fifth annual DefCon may have been a little less

raucous, but it was no less important as a place where hackers from around

the world gather to socialize, gamble -- and glance around furtively trying

to spot the government agents who infiltrate the convention. (Bonus: If you

guess correctly, you can take a prized "I Spotted the Fed" T-shirt home

with you.) 

     Naturally, DefCon has always been populated with a slew of specialized

talks on "Hacking Novell Netware" and uses of "embedded microcontroller

applications." But this year, speakers such as Richard Thieme spoke of

finer points: For instance, how hackers should avoid merely imitating their

predecessors' exploits. Instead, they should learn the intricacies of

computer systems themselves. "This is really functioning as a call to

excellence," Thieme says. Then there was Carolyn Meinel, who maintains the

"Happy Hacker" mailing list. "You don't need to break the law to be a

hacker," she told me. 

     Maybe not, but the DefCon crowd -- mostly teenagers and

twentysomethings -- wasn't listening. Some tried to pass counterfeit $20

bills when registering. ("We'll beat your ass," Dark Tangent warned

afterward.) Others tried to snatch the DefCon banner from the convention

hall. By the time the conference began, the hotel's antiquated phone system

had been penetrated and instructions distributed on how to call long

distance for free. The hotel's radio frequencies quickly appeared on the

DefCon mailing list. On Friday evening, security guards booted two revelers

after a hallway skirmish led to blows. And someone was carrying around a

door to a GTE truck -- I never found out why. 

     All of which might explain Las Vegas's growing reluctance to host the

event. Dark Tangent says the convention has become virtually blackballed.

"You're dicked. There's no place to go," he says. This year, Dark Tangent

had to rename the convention "DC Communications" and take out $1 million in

liability insurance. He also moved the conference to the Aladdin, a

ramshackle hotel -- complete with faded purple carpets and cheesy lounge

singers -- that seems the only venue now willing to risk hosting DefCon. 

     Still, the Aladdin seemed a choice venue for Winn Schwartau, the

"InfoWar" crooner whom many hackers love to hate. He showed up to host two

rounds of Hacker Jeopardy. Teams of digerati took turns heckling Schwartau

and competing in categories such as National Security for $300: "A: The two

possible meanings of DOS. Q: What are Denial of Service or Disk Operating

System?" Or, "A: The assistant director of the FBI who handled the TWA

investigation and was behind the Clipper Chip. Q: Who is James Kallstrom?" 

     Bruce Schneier, author of "Applied Cryptography" (and the star of his

Hacker Jeopardy team), spoke on Saturday about "Why Cryptography Is Harder

Than It Looks." He warned of overconfidence when designing a cryptosystem:

"The math is perfect. The computers are bad. The networks hideous. The

people worse." Says Schneier, "We need to recognize the limits of the


    Sameer Parekh, president of C2Net, spoke the next day about offshore

crypto-development: "We export jobs, not crypto." Jobs seemed to be what

many in the crowd were looking for. As one generation of hackers gives way

to another, a new batch of self-anointed "security consultants" appears on

the scene. Of course, there are never enough scouts in attendance to hire

them all. 

     Dejected, and unable to hack more than the hotel PBX, some found

solace in the seamier side of Las Vegas. I saw a note inviting everyone to

a "StripperCon" that was being held down the street at the Tropicana Hotel

on Saturday night. I went gambling instead. 

     Short $75, I wondered whether next year's DefCon would be worth

attending -- that is, if it happens at all. But surely there will be a

DefCon 6, and since Internet Underground has gone to pasture, who else will

there be to cover it? So I poured another shot, dialed 9# on the wall phone

and placed a long distance call to the editor. On the house.             

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