Defcon Rave Against
the Machine

Defcon 2000: Hackers, Geeks,
‘Script Kiddies’ Party

"System Burn" disassembled and read the entire code for Windows 98 because he was curious. "It took a couple of days," he said.
(Sascha Segan/

By Sascha Segan
L A S   V E G A S, July 28 — It’s not just about the machines.
There are probably hundreds of people at Defcon, the world’s largest computer security convention, who could take down your company’s network with a few well-placed keystrokes. There are even some who are trying to explain how to avoid such attacks, if anyone’s willing to listen.
     But that’s not the heart of Defcon, organizers and attendees say. According to the convention’s official literature, it’s “an annual computer underground party for hackers,” where libertarian geeks, hangers-on, law enforcement agents and the occasional information systems manager get together to get drunk, talk about computers, and maybe learn something.
     “It’s where all the idiosyncrasies come out,” says Tim Lawless, a systems administrator at the University of Southern Missisippi.
     The convention opened today and will be held at the Alexis Park hotel in Las Vegas through Sunday.

Secret Knowledge
This year has seen several prominent computer-crime incidents, including denial-of-service attacks that hit prominent Web sites such as Yahoo! and in February and the multibillion-dollar “Love Bug” virus attack that struck computers worldwide in May.
     Last year at Defcon, the hacker group Cult of the Dead Cow premiered “BackOrifice 2000,” a program that lets network administrators or system crackers gain control of machines running Windows 2000.
     This year, with more and more companies reading employees’ e-mail and tracking their Web surfing, issues of privacy and anonymity are on the minds of Defcon speakers; several seminars address those topics. The hackers are also interested in the vulnerabilities of supposedly impregnable corporate firewalls.
     Denial-of-service attacks, notably, are missing from the schedule: True hackers consider them an amateurish act of vandalism, not worth their time.
     Because of the recent publicity, the hacker community has become skittish of anything involving DOS attacks, attendees said, whether it’s causing or curing them.

Green Hair and Boiler Suits
It’s easy to spot the Defcon attendees checking in at the Alexis Park —overwhelmingly young and male, they sport computer bags and dyed hair, and wear T-shirts that say things like “HackCanada” and “2600: The Hacker Quarterly.” One burly man checking in Thursday wore an orange boiler suit with bullets jammed in the breast pockets.
     There were some kids who were just testing out the lifestyle, like Matt, a hacker from San Antonio who came with his parents. Clean cut, soft-spoken, and 17, he said he came to Defcon to begin learning about computer security techniques.
     And there were many more women than one might expect: in tight leather pants, fishnets, or with green pigtails.
     Not everybody at Defcon is a hacker, Lawless says. Many are girlfriends, “scene whores,” federal agents doing “intelligence gathering,” young “script kiddies” aiming to become true experts, and computer security professionals.
     One buttoned-down, fiftysomething information systems manager from Montreal, who declined to give his name (Defcon attendees are often sticklers for privacy), said with a smile that guys like him were “ruining the con” for the hard-core audience who have been there since the first Defcon in 1993.

The Wild Party
The most buttoned-down attendees — federal agents — will be getting “I Am The Fed” T-shirts as part of a “spot the fed” contest, where hackers try to flush out undercover police.
     At the “Defcon Shoot” this morning, trigger-happy hackers went target shooting with guns out in the desert.
     Defconners will also attend a formal ball this weekend, dancing to electronic, house and trance music.
     Defcon’s founder, who calls himself Dark Tangent, remembers a past convention where the party got out of hand and a hacker and a hanger-on were caught on a security camera having sex in an elevator.
     There’s even a hacker version of “Capture the Flag” — computers will be set up on an internal network, and the winner will be the one who’s able to break into the most machines.
     It’s a geek party, after all.

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