I like to think of a hacker as somebody who takes something apart and puts it back together better.
Computer hackers "AJ" (right) and "Def Veggie" talk about new ways for companies to guard against hackers. Both are security analysts for major corporations to keep hackers out
(AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)
By Angie Bluethman
The Associated Press
L A S V E G A S
They're self-described nerds, using odd names such as "Mudge" or "Dark Tangent" and dressing in black.
These mostly gawky, mostly male teenagers and 20-somethings
also are the country's smartest and slyest computer hackers. On
Friday, more than 1,500 of them gathered in a stuffy convention
hall to swap secrets.
It is Def Con 5, the fifth annual meeting of hackers, crackers,
phone phreaks and 'zine publishers. Some are teenagers who pull
all-nighters trying to crack a company's computer system. Others
are former hackers who now provide computer system security.
"These are the guys that got beat up in high school and this is
their chance to get back," said Drew Williams, whose company wants
to hire hackers to learn how to better protect its customers.
"This is a subculture of computer technology," said Williams
of AXENT Technologies of Rockville, Md. "They truly have found a
Hacking comes from an intellectual desire to figure out how
things work, and the desire to show off how much you know,
convention-goers said. Grace and skill count for more than sheer
power, and an elegant solution to a problem gains more esteem from
ones' peers than klutzy fixes.
Def Con is named for the military term Defense Condition, a
measure of just how close the country is to nuclear war. It began
five years ago as a massive party thrown by a young bulletin board
operator who goes by the name Dark Tangent.
Spot the Fed
There are regular amusementsthe Spot the Fed contest and
Hacker's Jeopardy, where missing a question means drinking a beer.
The convention's version of the childhood standard Capture the Flag
game requires them to break into each other's computer system.
One group of young hackers, some carrying microphones, phones
and earpieces, were overheard joking about getting into the Nellis
Air Force Base computer system. One hacker said many illegal
entries come because of human error, and said he has impersonated
someone to get a password.
Few of these wizards will identify themselves because they fear
criminal prosecution. Even A.J., a 25-year-old security analyst who
sports a dog collar and nose ring, is cautious about personal
"Hackers aren't just people who break into other people's
computers," he said. "I like to think of a hacker as somebody who
takes something apart and puts it back together better.
"Hackers are not evil people. Hackers are kids."
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