Hackers gather in Vegas

Hackers gather in Vegas

For their seventh year, mohawk-coiffed teenage hackers, pony-tailed industry security experts, and buzz-cut government agents have gathered here to swap exploits, ideas, and code at the annual DefCon hacking convention.

One hacker who calls himself Mojo says he comes every year "to teach new hackers - and the information security business - how to hack where you don't break any laws".

"We can distribute information freely among the hacker community and show off our new stuff," says Mojo, who sports a mohawk made of eight 12 inch spikes. He drew a mixed crowd of more than 300 listeners to his one-hour talk about hacking the Windows Registry file.

The weekend event, based at the casino-free Alexis Park Hotel just off the Strip, features talks by well-known members of the hacking community, as well as conferences with legal experts and military officials. The topics range from specific training sessions (such as how to set up a firewall) to more general discussions of ethics, morality, and legality of hacking.

Organised by hackers, the convention offers a revealing glimpse into a world few people understand and which more than a few fear. Most of the participants identify themselves with pseudonyms such as Cyber or Ghost. The event's founder and primary organiser goes by the moniker Dark Tangent. But despite the ominous sounding names, the mostly teen-to-twenty something attendees were no more intimidating than the average high school student.

Dead Cow's BackOrifice

Piercings and mohawk haircuts seem the exception instead of the rule, and many of the participants in the weekend's events offer technical assistance freely and cheerfully.

It's also a place to gather tools for both sides of the trade. A hacker group called the Cult of the Dead Cow is distributing an update to its BackOrifice program, which lets users remotely control their victims' desktops. Zero Knowledge Systems, which got Intel's attention by posting information on how to hack the Pentium III's ID feature, is here. Its representatives are signing up beta testers for Freedom, an encryption technology.

For most of the people who showed up on the first day, the convention was a kind of homecoming, a place to congregate with others who share similar interests and a desire to learn more about the way computers work.

It was also a place to buy more than 20 different hacker- and programmer-oriented T-shirts, the latest secure operating systems, and low-grade pizza at two bucks per slice.

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