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Computerworld > News > Enterprise Computing > Tuesday, 13 July, 1999

Hack-a-thon demos the latest flavour of chaos
Cult of the Dead Cow draws nearly all 3500 to its launch event
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Andrew Brandt, SAN FRANCISCO
Speakers at the past weekend's DefCon conference covered a wide range of topics, from legal, ethical, and technical issues of hacking, to details about new discoveries and creations of the participants. Breakout sessions included everything from "The Art and Science of Enemy Profiling" to "Hacking Las Vegas," with special attention paid to the "Spot the Fed" game that spanned all three days.

By day two, DefCon attendance records had been broken. Estimates that an additional 1,000 people arrived on Saturday (after about 2,500 arrivals on Friday) were hard to deny when the Cult of the Dead Cow (cDc) drew nearly every attendee into the largest conference room for its highly produced software launch event.

The announcement of the latest version of cDc's freely available remote administration hacking toolkit (named Back Orifice 2000) was the most highly anticipated event at DefCon. The follow-up to last year's release of Back Orifice, the new software (referred to by its initials BO2K) adds new features and was rewritten from the ground up to run faster. The program allows anyone to take complete control of another PC and have complete access to hard drive partitions and shared network drives.

In an incredibly crowded conference room people sat, stood, or hung from any available space as the lights dimmed and music blared from a pair of loudspeakers. cDc members walked into the totally dark room and threw glowing stickers and 20 copies of Back Orifice 2000 into the crowd.

In true cult form, a cDc member wearing a sheepskin vest and chaps paced the stage, preached the "gospel" of the hacker group, and made fun of Microsoft. cDc members A.J. Reznor and Dild0g demonstrated the program's functionality to control another system on displays.

(Hackers later in the day distributed a bootleg, virus-infected copy of the program. cDc quickly denied involvement, warned attendees not to use the unofficial distribution, and handed out new CDs labeled "virus free" and personally signed by cDc member Count Zero the next day.)

Human Cyborg Struts His Stuff

Another of the more interesting conferences took place Sunday when University of Toronto professor Steve Mann demonstrated his cyborg-like head-mounted camera device in a talk entitled "Personal Cybernetics." Mann, a former student at the MIT Media Laboratory, has spent the past decade improving upon his invention -- a small camera and display device mounted to a variety of head gear that allows the wearer to transmit whatever he or she is seeing, in real time, over the Internet.

In his talk, which he gave from his office in Toronto over a speakerphone and with a feed to his visor display, Mann discussed a concept he calls mediated reality. To Mann, the most important use of the technology involves using the head-mounted display and camera in conjunction with powerful computers to "filter" what a person sees electronically.

One of Mann's goals is to develop the technology to allow people to eliminate the "visual spam," or advertising that surrounds a person in the modern environment. Mann demonstrated how he took an advertisement for a brand of condoms that was posted over a urinal in a public bathroom and replaced it in real time with a static image of a waterfall. "A far more appropriate picture under the circumstances," Mann added.

Convicted Hacker Speaks

Former hacker and current TV personality Kevin Poulsen gave another of the anxiously awaited talks at DefCon. Poulsen was convicted and jailed for hacking into military computer systems. A poster boy for both pro- and anti-hacker camps, he currently hosts a cable television show about hackers.

The soft-spoken Poulsen and his attorney, Jennifer Grannick, gave a short presentation about how the fourth and fifth amendments to the Constitution pertain to hackers. They also showed a five-minute profile of Poulsen from the crime-fighter TV series America's Most Wanted, at times eliciting raucous laughter from the audience.

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