(This is Part II of the ongoing Cyber Christ series. Part I, "Cyber Christ Meets Lady Luck" DefCon II, Las Vegas, July 22-24, 1994 is available all over the 'Net.)
Las Vegas is a miserable place, and with a nasty cold no less; it took me three weeks of inhaling salt water and sand at the beach to finally dry up the post nasal drip after my jaunt to DefCon II. My ears returned to normal so that I no longer had to answer every question with an old Jewish man's "Eh?" while fondling my lobes for better reception.
New York had to be better.
Emmanuel Goldstein -aka Eric Corely - or is it the other way around? is the host of HOPE, Hackers on Planet Earth, a celebration of his successfully publishing 2600 - The Hackers Quarterly for ten years without getting jailed, shot or worse. For as Congressman Ed Markey said to Eric/Emmanuel in a Congressional hearing last year, and I paraphrase, 2600 is no more than a handbook for hacking (comparable obviously to a terrorist handbook for blowing up the World Trade Center) for which Eric/Emmanuel should be properly vilified, countenanced and then drawn and quartered on Letterman's Stupid Pet Tricks.
Ed and Eric/Emmanuel obviously have little room for negotiation and I frankly enjoyed watching their Congressional movie where communication was at a virtual standstill: and neither side understood the viewpoints or positions of the other.
But Ed is from Baaahhhsten, and Eric/Emmanuel is from New York, and HOPE will take place in the Hotel Filthadelphia, straight across the street from Pennsylvania Station in beautiful downtown fast-food-before-they-mug-you 34th street, right around the corner from clean-the-streets-its-Thanksgiving Herald Square. Geography notwithstanding, HOPE promised to be a more iconoclastic gathering than that of DefCon II.
First off, to set the record straight, I am a New Yorker. No matter that I escaped in 1981 for the sunny beaches of California for 7 years, and then moved to the Great State of the Legally Stupid for four more (Tennessee); no matter that I now live on the Gulf Coast of Florida where the water temperature never dips below a chilly 98 degrees; I am and always will be a New Yorker.
It took me the better part of a decade of living away from New York to come to that undeniable and inescapable conclusion: Once a New Yorker, always a New Yorker. Not that that makes my wife any the happier.
"You are so rude. You love to argue. Confrontation is your middle name." Yeah, so what's your point?
You see, for a true New Yorker these aren't insults to be re-regurgitated at the mental moron who attempts to combat us in a battle of wits yet enters the ring unarmed; these are mere truisms as seen by someone who views the world in black and white, not black, white and New York.
Case in point.
I used to commute into Manhattan from the Westchester County suburb of Ossining where I lived 47 feet from the walls of Sing Sing prison (no shit!). Overlooking the wide expanse of the Hudson River from my aerie several hundred feet above, the only disquieting aspect of that location were the enormously deafening thunderclaps which resounded a hundred and one times between the cliffs on either side of the river. Then there was the occasional escapee-alarm from the prison. .
So, it was my daily New York regimen to take the 8:15 into the city. If the train's on time I'll get to work by nine . . .
Grand Central Station - the grand old landmark thankfully saved by the late Jackie O. - is the nexus for a few hundred million commuters who congregate in New York Shitty for no other reason that to collect a paycheck to afford blood pressure medicine.
You have to understand that New York is different. Imagine, picture in your mind: nothing is so endearing as to watch thousands of briefcase carrying suits scrambling like ants in a Gary Larson cartoon for the nearest taxi, all the while greeting their neighbors with the prototypical New York G'day!
With both fists high in the air, middle fingers locked into erect prominence, a cacophonous chorus of "Good Fucking Morning" brightens the day of a true New Yorker. His bloodshot eyes instantly clear, the blood pressure sinks by 50% and already the first conflict of the day has been waged and won.
Welcome to the Big Apple, and remember never, ever, to say, "Have a Nice Day." Oh, no. Never.
So HOPE was bound to be radically different from Vegas's DefCon II, if only for the setting. But, I expected hard core. The European contingent will be there, as will Israel and South America and even the Far East. All told, I am told, 1000 or more are expected. And again, as at DefCon II, I am to speak, but Eric/Emmanuel never told me about what, when, or any of the other niceties that go along with this thing we call a schedule.
God, I hate rushing.
Leaving Vienna at 3:15 for a 4PM Amtrak "put your life in their hands" three hour trip to New York is not for the faint of heart. My rented Hyundai four cylinder limousine wound up like a sewing machine to 9,600 RPM and hydroplaned the bone dry route 66 into the pot holed, traffic hell of Friday afternoon Washington, DC. Twelve minutes to spare.
I made the 23 mile trip is something less than three minutes and bounded into the Budget rental return, decelerated to impulse power and let my brick and lead filled suitcase drop to the pavement with a dent and a thud. "Send me the bill," I hollered at the attendant. Never mind that Budget doesn't offer express service like real car rental companies. "Just send me the bill!" and I was off.
Eight minute to spare. Schlepp, schlepp. Heavy, heavy.
Holy shit! Look at the line for tickets and I had reservations.
"Is this the line for the four o'clock to New York?" Pant, breathless.
"Yeah." She never looked up.
"Will they hold the train?"
"No." A resoundingly rude no at that. Panic gene takes over.
"What about the self-ticketing computer?" I said pointing at the self ticketing computer.
"Do you have a reservation?"
"Yup." Maybe there is a God.
"Won't help you."
"What do you mean won't help?"
"Computer's broken." Criminy! I have 4 minutes and here's this over-paid over-attituded Amtrak employee who thinks she's the echo of Whoopi Goldberg. "The line's over there."
Have you ever begged? I mean really begged? Well I have.
"Are you waiting for the four?" "Can I slip ahead?" "Are you in a death defying hurry?" "I'll give you a dime for your spot in line." "You are so pretty for 76, ma'am. Can I sneak ahead?"
Tears work. Two excruciating minutes to go. I bounced ahead of everyone in a line the length of the Great Wall of China, got my tickets and tore ass through Union Station The closing gate missed me but caught the suitcase costing me yet more time as I attempted to disgorge my now-shattered valise from the fork-lift-like spikes which protect the trains from late-coming commuters. The rubber edged doors on the train itself were kinder and gentler, but at this point, screw it. It was Evian and Fritos for the next three hours.
Promises tend to be lies. The check is in the mail; Dan Quayle will learn to spell; I won't raise taxes. I wonder about HOPE.
"It's going to be Bust Central," said one prominent hacker who threatened me with electronic assassination if I used his name. "Emmanuel will kill me." Apparently the authorities-who-be are going to be there in force. "They want to see if Corrupt or any of the MoD crew stay after dark, then Zap! Back to jail. (giggle, giggle.) I want to see that."
Will Mitnick show up? I'd like to talk to that boy. A thousand hackers in one place and Eric/Emmanuel egging on the Feds to do something stupid. Agent Steal will be there, or registered at least, and half of the folks I know going are using aliases.
"I'd like a room please."
"Is that your first or last name?"
"Could you spell that?"
Now: I know the Hotel Pennsylvania. It used to be the high class Statler Hilton until Mr. Hilton himself decided that the place was beyond hope. "Sell it or scuttle it." They sold and thus begat the hotel Filthadelphia. I stayed here once in 1989 and it was a cesspool then. I wondered why the Farsi-fluent bellhop wouldn't tell me how bad the damage was from the fire bombed 12th floor. The carpets were the same dingy, once upon a time colorful, drab as I remembered. And, I always have a bit of trouble with a hotel who puts a security check by the elevator bank. Gives you the warm and fuzzies that make you want to come back right away.
I saved $2 because none of the bell hops noticed I needed help, but then again, it wouldn't have mattered for there was no way he and I and my luggage were going to fit inside of what the hotel euphemistically refers to as a 'room'. Closet would be kind but still inaccurate. I think the word, ah, '$95 a night slum' might still be overly generous. Let's try . . . ah ha! the room that almost survived the fire bombing. Yeah, that's the ticket.
The walls were pealing. Long strips of yellowed antique wallpaper embellished the flatness of the walls as they curled towards the floor and windows. The chunks of dried glue decorated the pastel gray with texture and the water stains from I know not where slithered their way to the soggy carpet in fractal patterned rivulets. I stood in awe at early funk motif that the Hotel Filthadelphia chose in honor of my attendance at HOPE. But, no matter how bad my room was, at least it was bachelor clean. (Ask your significant other what that means. . .)
In one hacker's room no bigger than mine I counted 13 sleeping bags lying amongst the growing mold at the intersection of the drenched wallboard and putrefying carpet shreds. (God, I love going to hacker conferences! It's not that I like Hyatt's and Hilton' all that much: I do prefer the smaller facilities, but, I am sad to admit, clean counts at my age.). My nose did not have to venture towards the floor to be aware that the Hotel Filthadelphia was engaging in top secret exobiological government experiments bent on determining their communicability and infection factor.
The top floor of the Hotel Filthadelphia - the 18th - was the place for HOPE, except the elevator door wouldn't open. The inner door did, but even with the combined strength of my personal crowbar (a New York defensive measure only; I never use it at home) and three roughians with a bad case of Mexican Claustrophobia, we never got the door open.
The guard in the lobby was a big help.
Damned if he didn't know his elevators and I emerged into the pre-HOPE chaos of preparing for a conference.
About 100 hackers lounged around in varying forms of disarray - Hey Rop!
Rop Gongrijjp editor of the Dutch Hacktic is a both a friend and an occasional source of stimulating argument. Smart as a whip, I don't always agree with him, though, the above-ground security types ought to talk to him for a clear, concise and coherent description of the whys and wherefores of hacking.
Hey Emmanuel! Hey Strat! Hey Garbage Heap! Hey Erikb! Hey to lots of folks. Is that you Supernigger? And Julio? I was surprised. I knew a lot more of these guys that I thought I did. Some indicted, some unindicted, some mere sympathizers and other techno-freaks who enjoy a weekend with other techno-freaks. Security dudes - get hip! Contact your local hacker and make friends. You'll be glad you did.
>From behind - got me. My adrenaline went into super-saturated mode as I was grabbed. I turned and it was . . . Ben. Ben is a hugger. "I just wanted to hug you," he said sweetly but without the humorous sexually deviant connotation that occurred during Novocain's offer to let Phil Zimmerman sleep with him in Las Vegas.
I smiled a crooked smile. "Yeah, right." Woodstock '94 was a mere 120 miles away . . .maybe there was a psychic connection. But Ben was being sincere. He was hugging everyone. Everyone. At 17, he really believes that hugging and hacking are next to Godliness. Boy does he have surprise coming the first time his mortgage is late. Keep hugging while you have the chance, Ben.
Assorted cases of Zima (the disgusting Polish is-this-really-lime flavored beer of choice by those without taste buds) appeared, but anyone over the age of 21 drank Bud. What about the 12 year olds drinking? And the 18 year olds? And the 16 year olds?
"Rop, I don't think you need to give the hotel an excuse to bust you guys outta here." Me, fatherly and responsible? Stranger things have happened. The beer was gone. I'm not a teetotaler, but I didn't want my weekend going up in flames because of some trashed 16 year old puking on an Irani ambassador in the lobby. No reason to test fate.
Nothing worked, but that's normal.
Rop had set up HEU (Hacking at the End of the Universe) in Holland last year with a single length of 800m ethernet. (That's meter for the Americans: about 2625 ft.) HOPE, though was different. The Hotel Filthadelphia's switchboard and phone systems crashed every half hour or so which doesn't do a lot for the health of 28.8 slip lines.
The object of the exercise was seemingly simple: plug together about 20 terminals into a terminal server connected to Hope.Com and let 'em go at it. Provide 'net access and, to the lucky winner of the crack-the-hopenet server (root) the keys to a 1994 Corvette!
You heard it right! For breaking into root of their allegedly secure server, the folks at 2600 are giving away keys to a 1994 Corvette. They don't know where the car is, just the keys. But they will give you the car's last known location . . . or was it $50 in cash?
Erikb - Chris Goggans - showed up late Friday night in disguise: a baseball cap over his nearly waist length dirty blond hair. "He's here!" one could hear being muttered. "He had the balls to show up!" "He's gonna get his ass kicked to a pulp." "So you did come . . . I was afraid they'd intimidated you to stay in Texas."
No way! "Why tell the enemy what your plans are." Even the 50's-something ex-amphetamine-dealer turned reseller of public-records Bootleg didn't know Goggans was going to be there. But the multiple fans of Erikb, (a strong resemblance to Cyber Christ if he do say so himself) were a-mighty proud to see him.
This stunning Asian girl with skin too soft to touch (maybe she was 14, maybe she was 25) looked at Erikb by the message board. "You're," she pointed in disbelief "Erikb?" Chris nods, getting arrogantly used to the respectful adulation. Yeah, that's me, to which the lady/girl/woman instantly replied, "You're such an asshole." Smile, wide smile, hug, kiss, big kiss. Erikb revels in the attention and hundreds of horny hackers jealously look on.
Friday night was more of an experience - a Baba Ram Dass-like Be Here Now experience - with mellow being the operative word. The hotel had apparently sacrificed 20,000 square feet of its penthouse to hackers, but it was obvious to see they really didn't give a damn if the whole floor got trashed. Ceiling panels dripped from their 12 foot lofts making a scorched Shuttle underbelly look pristine. What a cesspool! I swear nothing had been done to the decorative environs since the day Kennedy was shot. But kudos to Emmanuel for finding a centrally located cesspool that undoubtedly gave him one hell of a deal. I think it would be a big mistake to hold a hacker conference at the Plaza or some such snooty overly-self-indulgent denizen of the rich.
Filth sort of lends credibility to an event that otherwise seeks notoriety.
I didn't want to take up too much of Emmanuel's and Rop's time - they were in setup panic - so it was off to the netherworld until noon. That's when a civilized Con begins.
I dared to go outside; it was about 11AM and I was in search of the perfect New York breakfast: a greasy spoon that serves coffee as tough as tree bark and a catatonia inducing egg and bacon sandwich. Munch, munch, munch on that coffee.
I'd forgotten how many beggars hang out on the corner of 33rd and 7th, all armed with the same words, "how about a handout, Winn?" How the hell do they know my name? "Whatever you give will come back to you double and triple . . . please man, I gotta eat." It is sad, but John Paul Getty I ain't.
As I munched on my coffee and sipped my runny egg-sandwich I noticed that right in front of the runny-egg-sandwich place sat a Ford Econoline van. Nice van. Nice phone company van. What are they doing here? Oh, yeah, the hackers need lines and the switchboard is down. Of course, the phone company is here. But, what's that? Hello? A Hacker playing in the phone van? I recognize you! You work with Emmanuel. How? He's robbing it. Not robbing, maybe borrowing.
The ersatz telephone van could have fooled anyone - even me, a color blind quasi-techno-weanie to yell "Yo! Ma Bell!" But, upon not-too-closer inspection, the TPC (The Phone Company) van was in fact a 2600 van - straight from the minds of Emmanuel and friends. Impeccable! The telephone bell in a circle logo is, in this case, connected via cable to a hacker at a keyboard. The commercial plates add an additional air of respectability to the whole image. It works.
The keynote speech was to be provided courtesy of the Man in Blue. Scheduled for noon, things were getting off to a late start. The media (who were there in droves, eat your heart out CSI) converged on the MIB to see who and why someone of his stature would (gasp!) appear/speak at a funky-downtown hotel filled with the scourges of Cyberspace. I didn't see if Ben hugged the MIB, but I would understand if he didn't. Few people knew him or suspected what size of Jim-Carey-MASK arsenal might suddenly appear if a passive hug were accidentally interpreted as being too aggressive. The MIB is imposing and Ben too shy.
The media can ask some dumb questions and write some dumb articles because they spend 12 1/2 minutes trying to understand an entire culture. Can't do that fellows!
The MIB, though, knows hackers and is learning about them more and more; and since he is respectable, the media asks him about hackers. What are hackers? Why are YOU here, Mr. MIB?
"Because they have a lot to offer. They are the future," the Man In Blue said over and over. Interview after interview - how time flies when you're having fun - and the lights and cameras are rolling from NBC and PIX and CNN and assorted other channels and magazines. At 12:55 chaos had not settled down to regimented disorganization and the MIB was getting antsy. After all, he was a military man and 55 minutes off schedule: Egad! Take charge.
The MIB stood on a chair and hollered to the 700+ hacker phreaks in the demonstration ballroom, "Hey! It's starting. Let's go the theater and get rocking! Follow me." He leaned over to me: "Do you know where the room is?"
"Sure, follow me."
"Everyone follow, c'mon," yelled the MIB. "I'm going to get started in exactly three minutes," and three minutes he meant. Despite the fact that I got lost in a hallway and had hundreds of followers following my missteps and the MIB yelling at me for getting lost in a room with only two doors, we did make the main hall, and within 90 seconds he took over the podium and began speaking.
"I bet you've always wanted to ask a spy a few questions. Here's your chance. But let me say that the United States intelligence community needs help and you guys are part of the solution." The MIB was impeccably dressed in his pin stripe with only traces of a Hackers 80 T-shirt leaking through his starched white dress shirt. The MIB is no less than Robert Steele, ex-CIA type spy, senior civilian in Marine Corps Intelligence and now the President of Open Source Solutions, Inc.
He got these guys (and gals) going. Robert doesn't mince words and that's why as he puts it, he's "been adopted by the hackers." At his OSS conferences he has successfully juxtaposed hackers and senior KGB officials who needed full time security during their specially arranged 48 hour visa to Washington, DC. He brought Emmanuel and Rop and clan to his show and since their agendas aren't all that different, a camaraderie was formed.
Robert MIB Steele believes that the current intelligence machinery is inadequate to meet the challenges of today's world. Over 80% of the classified information contained with the Byzantine bowels of the government is actually available from open sources. We need to realize that the future is more of an open book than ever before.
We classify newspaper articles from Peru in the incredibly naive belief that only Pentagon spooks subscribe. We classify BBC video tapes from the UK with the inane belief that no one will watch it if it so stamped. We classify $4 Billion National Reconnaissance Office satellite generated street maps of Calle, Colombia when anyone with an IQ only slightly above a rock can get the same one from the tourist office. And that's where hackers come in.
"You guys are a national resource. Too bad everyone's so scared of you." Applause from everywhere. The MIB knows how to massage a crowd. Hackers, according to Steele, and to a certain extent I agree, are the truth tellers "in a constellation of complex systems run amok and on the verge of catastrophic collapse."
Hackers are the greatest sources of open source information in the world. They have the navigation skills, they have the time, and they have the motivation, Robert says. Hackers peruse the edges of technology and there is little that will stop them in their efforts. The intelligence community should take advantage of the skills and lessons that the hackers have to teach us, yet as we all know, political and social oppositions keep both sides (who are really more similar then dissimilar) from talking.
"Hackers put a mirror up to the technical designers who have built the networks, and what they see, they don't like. Hackers have shown us all the chinks in the armor of a house without doors or windows. The information infrastructure is fragile and we had better do something about it now; before it's too late."
Beat them at their own game, suggests Steele. Keep the doors of Cyberspace open, and sooner or later, the denizens of the black holes of information will have to sooner or late realize that the cat is out of the bag.
Steele educated the Hacker crowd in a way new to them: he treated them with respect, and in turn he opened a channel of dialog that few above ground suit-types have ever envisioned. Steele works at the source.
HOPE had begun and Robert had set the tone.
The day was long. Dogged by press, hackers rolled over so the reporters could tickle their stomachs on camera. Despite their public allegations that the media screws it up and never can get the story right, a camera is like a magnet. The New York Times printed an article about HOPE so off the wall I wondered if the reporter had actually been there. Nonetheless, the crowds followed the cameras, the cameras followed the crowds, and the crowds parted like the Red Sea. But these were mighty colorful crowds.
We all hear of that prototypical image of the acne faced, Jolt-drinking, pepperoni downing nerdish teenager who has himself locked in the un-air-conditioned attic of his parents' half million dollar house from the time school gets out till the sun rises. Wrongo security-breath. Yeah, there's that component, but I was reminded of the '80's, the early '80's by a large percentage of the crowd.
Purple hair was present but scarce, and I swear on a stack of 2600's that Pat from Saturday Night Live was there putting everyone's hormonal guess-machines to the test. But what cannot help but capture one's attention is a 40 pin integrated circuit inserted into the shaved side skull of an otherwise clean-cut Mohawk haircut.
The story goes that Chip Head went to a doctor and had a pair of small incisions placed in his skull which would hold the leads from the chip. A little dab of glue and in a few days the skin would grow back to hold the 40 pins in the natural way; God's way.
There was a time that I thought ponytails were 'out' and passe, but I thought wrong. Mine got chopped off in roughly 1976 down to shoulder length which remained for another six years, but half of the HOPE audience is the reason for wide spread poverty in the hair salon industry.
Nothing wrong with long, styled, inventive, outrageous hair as long as it's clean; and with barely an exception, such was the case. In New York it's not too hard to be perceived as clean, especially when you consider the frame of reference. Nothing is too weird.
The energy level of HOPE was much higher than the almost lethargic (but good!) DefCon II. People move in a great hurry, perhaps to convey the sense of importance to others, or just out of frenetic hyperactivity. Hackers hunched over their keyboards - yet with a sense of urgency and purpose. Quiet yet highly animated conversations in all corners. HOPE staff endlessly pacing throughout the event with their walkie-talkies glued to their ears.
Not many suit types. A handful at best, and what about the Feds? I was accosted a few times for being a Fed, but word spread: no Fed, no bust. Where were the Feds? In the lobby. The typical NYPD cop has the distinctive reputation of being overweight especially when he wearing two holsters - one for the gun and one for the Italian sausage. Perpetually portrayed as donut dunking dodo's, some New York cops' asses are referred to as the Fourth Precinct and a few actually moonlight as sofas.
So rather than make a stink, (NY cops hate to make a scene) the lobby of the Hotel Filthadelphia was home to the Coffee Clutch for Cops. About a half dozen of them made their profound presence known by merely spending their day consuming mass quantities of questionable ingestibles, but that was infinitely preferable to hanging out on the 18th floor. The hackers weren't causing any trouble, the cops knew that, so why push it. Hackers don't fight, they hack. Right?
After hours of running hours behind schedule, the HOPE conference was in first place for disorganized, with DefCon II not far behind. Only with 1000 people to keep happy and in the right rooms, chaos reigns sooner. The free Unix sessions and Pager session and open microphone bitch session and the unadulterated true history of 2600 kept audiences of several hundred hankering for more - hour after hour.
Over by the cellular hacking demonstrations, I ran into a hacker I had written about: Julio, from the almost defunct Masters of Destruction. Julio had gone state's evidence and was prepared to testify against MoD ring leader Mark Abene (aka Phiber Optik) but once Mark pled guilty to enough crimes to satisfy the Feds, Julio was off the hook with mere probation. Good guy, sworn off of hacking. Cell phones are so much more interesting.
However, while standing around with Erikb and a gaggle of Cyber Christ wanna-bes, Julio and his friend (who was the size of Texas on two legs) began a pushing match with Goggans. "You fucking narc red-neck son of a bitch." Goggans helped build the case against the MoD and didn't make a lot of friends in the process.
The shoving and shouldering reminded me of slam dancing from decades past, but these kids are too young to have taken part in the social niceties of deranged high speed propulsion and revulsion on the dance floor. So it was a straight out pushing match, which found Erikb doing his bloody best to avoid. Julio and pal kept a'coming and Erikb kept avoiding. It took a dozen of us to get in the middle and see that Julio was escorted to the elevators. Julio said Corrupt, also of the MoD, was coming down to HOPE, too. Corrupt has been accused of mugging drug dealers to finance his computer escapades, and was busted along with the rest of the MoD gang. The implied threat was taken seriously, but, for whatever reason, Corrupt never showed. It is said that the majority of the hacking community distances itself from him; he's not good for the collective reputation. So much for hacker fights. All is calm.
The evening sessions continued and continued with estimates of as late as 4AM being bandied about. Somewhere around 1:00AM I ran into Bootleg in the downstairs bar. Where was everybody? Not upstairs. Not in the bar. I saw a Garbage Heap in the street outside (now that's a double entendre) and then Goggans popped up from the door of the Blarney Stone, a syndicated chain of low-class Irish bars that serve fabulously thick hot sandwiches.
"We're about to get thrown out."
"From the Blarney Stone? That's impossible. Drunks call the phone booths home!"
Fifty or so hacker/phreaks had migrated to the least likely, most anachronistic location one could imagine. A handful of drunken sots leaning over their beers on a stain encrusted wooden breeding ground for salmonella. A men's room that hasn't seen the fuzzy end of a brush for the best part of a century made Turkish toilets appear refreshingly clean. And they serve food here.
I didn't look like a hacker so I asked the bartender, "Big crowd, eh?"
The barrel chested beer bellied barman nonchalantly replied, "nah. Pretty usual." He cleaned a glass so thoroughly the water marks stood out plainly.
"Really? This much action on a Saturday night on a dark side street so questionably safe that Manhattan's Mugger Society posts warnings?"
"So," I continued. "These hackers come here a lot?"
"Sure do," he said emphatically.
"Wow. I didn't know that. So this is sort of a hacker bar, you might say?"
"Exactly. Every Saturday night they come in and raise a little hell."
With a straight face I somehow managed to thank the confused barman for his help and for the next four hours learned that socially, hackers of today are no different than many if not most of us were in our late teens ad early twenties. We laughed and joked and so do they - but there is more computer talk. We decried the political status of our day as they do theirs, albeit they with less fervor and more resignation. The X-Generation factor: most of them give little more than a tiny shit about things they view as being totally outside their control, so why bother. Live for today.
Know they enemy. Robert hung in with me intermingling and arguing and debating and learning from them, and they from us. Hackers aren't the enemy - their knowledge is - and they are not the exclusive holders of that information. Information Warfare is about capabilities, and no matter who possesses that capability, there ought to be a corresponding amount respect. Indeed, rather than adversaries, hackers could well become government allies and national security assets in an intense international cyber-conflict. In the LoD/MoD War of 1990-91, one group of hackers did help authorities. Today many hackers assist professional organizations, governments in the US and overseas - although very quietly. 'Can't be seen consorting with the enemy.' Is hacking from an Army or Navy or NATO base illegal? Damned if I know, but more than one Cyber Christ-like character makes a tidy sum providing hands-on hacking education to the brass in Europe.
Where these guys went after 5AM I don't know, but I was one of the first to be back at the HOPE conference later that day; 12:30 PM Sunday.
The Nazi Hunters were out in force.
"The Neo-Nazi skinheads are trying to start another Holocaust." A piercing, almost annoying voice stabbed right through the crowds. "Their racist propaganda advocates killing Jews and blacks. They have to be stopped, now."
Mortechai Levy (I'll call him Morty) commanded the attention of a couple dozen hackers. Morty was a good, emotional, riveting shouter. "These cowardly bastards have set up vicious hate call lines in over 50 cities. The messages advocate burning synagogues, killing minorities and other violence. These phones have to be stopped!"
The ever-present leaflet from Morty's Jewish Defense Organization asked for help from the 2600 population.
"Phone freaks you must use your various assorted bag of tricks to shut these lines down. No cowardly sputterings about 'free speech' for these fascist scum."
The headline invited the hacker/phreak community to:
"Let's Shut Down 'Dial-A-Nazi'!!!"
Morty was looking for political and technical support from a band of nowhere men and women who largely don't know where they're going much less care about an organized political response to someone elses cause. He wasn't making a lot of headway, and he must have know that he would walk right into the anarchist's bible: the 1st amendment.
The battle lines had been set. Morty wanted to see the Nazis censored and hackers are absolute freedom of speechers by any measure. Even Ben sauntering over for a group hug did little to defuse the mounting tension.
I couldn't help but play mediator. Morty was belligerently loud and being deafeningly intrusive which affected the on-going sessions. To tone it down some, we nudged Morty and company off to the side and occupied a corner of thread bare carpet, leaning against a boorish beige wall that had lost its better epidermis.
The heated freedom of speech versus the promotion of racial genocide rancor subdued little even though we were all buns side down. I tried to get a little control of the situation.
"Morty. Answer me this so we know where you're coming from. You advocate the silencing of the Nazis, right?
"They're planning a new race war; they have to be stopped."
"So you want them silenced. You say their phones should be stopped and that the hackers should help."
"Call that number and they'll tell you that Jews and blacks should be killed and then they . . ."
"Morty. OK, you want to censor the Nazis. Yes or No."
"OK, I can understand that. The question really is, and I need your help here, what is the line of censorship that you advocate. Where is your line of legal versus censored?"
A few more minutes of political diatribe and then he got to the point. "Any group with a history of violence should be censored and stopped." A little imagination and suddenly the whole planet is silenced. We need a better line, please. "Hate group, Nazis, people who advocate genocide . . . they should be silenced . . . ."
"So," I analyzed. "You want to establish censorship criteria based upon subjective interpretation. Whose interpretation?" My approach brought nods of approval.
One has to admire Morty and his sheer audacity and tenacity and how much he strenuously and single-mindedly drives his points home. He didn't have the ideal sympathetic audience, but he wouldn't give an inch. Not an inch. A little self righteousness goes a long way; boisterous extremism grows stale. It invites punitive retorts and teasing, or in counter-culture jargon, "fucking with their heads."
Morty (perhaps for justifiable reasons) was totally inflexible and thus more prone to verbal barbing. "You're just a Jewish racist. Racism in reverse," accused one jocular but definitely lower middle class hacker with an accent thicker than all of Brooklyn.
Incoming Scuds! Look out! Morty went nuts and as they say, freedom of speech ends when my fists impacts upon your nose. Morty came dangerously close to crossing that line. Whoah, Morty, whoah. He's just fucking with your head. The calm-down brigade did its level best to keep these two mortals at opposite ends of the room.
"You support that Neo Nazi down there; you're as bad as the rest!" Morty said. "See what I have to tolerate. I know him, we've been keeping track of him and he hangs out with the son of the Grand Wizard of Nazi Oz." The paranoid train got on the tracks.
"Do you really know the Big Poo-bah of Hate?" I asked the hacker under assault and now under protective custody.
"Yeah," he said candidly. "He's some dick head who hates everyone. Real jerk."
"So what about you said to Morty over there?"
"Just fucking with his head. He gets a little extreme." So we had in our midst the Al Sharpton of the Jewish faith. Ballsy. Since Morty takes Saturday's off by religious law, he missed the press cavalcade, but as a radical New York fixture, the media probably didn't mind too much.
I was off to sessions, Morty found new audiences as they came off the elevators, and the band played on.
In my humble 40-something opinion, the best session of HOPE was the one on social engineering.
The panel consisted of only Emmanuel, Supernigger (social engineer par excellence) and Cheshire Catalyst. The first bits were pretty staid dry conventional conference (ConCon) oriented, but nonetheless, not the kind of info that you expect to find William H. Murray, Executive Consultant handing out.
The best social engineers make friends of their victims. Remember: you're playing a role. Think Remington Steele.
Schmooze! "Hey, Jack did you get a load of the blond on Stern last night?"
Justifiable anger: "Your department has caused nothing but headaches. These damn new computers/phones/technology just don't work like the old ones. Now either you help me now or I'm going all the way to Shellhorn and we'll what he says about these kinds of screwups." A contrite response is the desired effect.
Butt headed bosses: "Hey, my boss is all over my butt, can you help me out?"
Management hatred: "I'm sitting here at 3PM working while management is on their yachts. Can you tell me . . .?"
Giveaways: "Did you know that so and so is having an affair with so and so? It's true, I swear. By the way, can you tell me how to . . ."
Empathy: "I'm new, haven't been to the training course and they expect me to figure this out all by myself. It's not fair."
Thick Accent: "Hi. Dees computes haf big no wurk. Eet no makedah passurt. Cunu help? Ah, tanku." Good for a quick exchange and a quick good-bye. Carefully done, people want you off the phone quickly.
Billsf, the almost 40 American phreak who now calls Amsterdam home was wiring up Supernigger's real live demonstration of social engineering against Sprint. A dial tone came over the PA system followed by the pulses to 411.
"Directory Assistance," the operator's male voice was squeezed into a mere three kilohertz bandwidth.
Suddenly, to the immense pleasure of the audience, an ear-splitting screech a thousand times louder than finger nails on a chalk board not only belched across the sound system but caused instant bleeding in the ears of the innocent but now deaf operator. . Billsf sheepishly grinned. "Just trying to wire up a mute button."
Three hundred people in unison responded: "It doesn't work." No shit.
While Billsf feverishly worked to regain his reputation, Supernigger explained what he was going to do. The phone companies have a service, ostensibly for internal use, called a C/NA. Sort of a reverse directory when you have the number but want to know who the number belongs to and from whence it comes. You can understand that this is not the sort of feature that the phone company wants to have in the hands of a generation of kids who are so apathetic that they don't even know they don't give a shit. Nonetheless, the access to this capability is through an 800 number and a PIN.
Supernigger was going to show us how to acquire such privileged information. Live. "When you get some phone company person as dumb as a bolt on the other end, and you know a few buzz words. you convince them that it is in their best interest and that they are supposed to give you the information."
"I've never done this in front of an audience before, so give me three tries," he explained to an anxiously foaming at the mouth crowd. No one took a cheap pot shot at him: tacit acceptance of his rules.
"Mary. Hi, this is Don Brewer in social engineering over at CIS, how's it going?" Defuse.
"Oh, fine. I guess."
"I know, I hate working Sundays. Been busy?"
"Nah, no more. Pretty calm. How can I help you?"
"I'm doing a verification and I got systems down. I just need the C/NA. You got it handy?" Long pause.
"Sure, lemme look. Ah, it's 313.424.0900." 700 notebooks appeared out of nowhere, accompanied by the sound of 700 pens writing down a now-public phone number.
"Got it. Thanks." The audience is gasping at the stunningly stupid gullibility of Mary. But quiet was essential to the mission.
"Here's the PIN number while we're at it." Double gasp. She's offering the supposedly super secret and secure PIN number? Was this event legal? Had Supernigger gone over the line?
"No, CIS just came up. Thanks anyway."
"Sure you don't need it?"
"Yeah. Thanks. Bye." Click. No need to press the issue. PIN access might be worth a close look from the next computer DA wanna-be.
An instant shock wave of cacophonous approval worked its way throughout the 750 seat ballroom in less than 2 microseconds. Supernigger had just successfully set himself as a publicly ordained Cyber Christ of Social Engineering. His white robes were on the way. Almost a standing ovation lasted for the better part of a minute by everyone but the narcs in the audience. I don't know if they were telco or Feds of whatever, but I do know that they were the stupidest narcs in the city of New York. This pair of dour thirty something Republicans had sphincters so tight you could mine diamonds out of their ass.
Arms defiantly and defensively crossed, they were stupid enough to sit in the third row center aisle. They never cracked a smile at some of the most entertaining performances I have seen outside of the giant sucking sound that emanates from Ross Perot's ears.
Agree or disagree with hacking and phreaking, this was funny and unrehearsed ad lib material. Fools. So, for fun, I crawled over the legs of the front row and sat in the aisle, a bare eight feet from the narcs. Camera in hand I extended the 3000mm tele-photo lens which can distinguish the color of a mosquitoes underwear from a kilometer and pointed it in their exact direction. Their childhood acne scars appeared the depth of the Marianna Trench. Click, and the flash went off into their eyes, which at such a short distance should have caused instant blindness. But nothing. No reaction. Nada. Cold as ice. Rather disappointing, but now we know that almost human looking narc-bots have been perfected and are being beta tested at hacker cons.
Emmanuel Goldstein is very funny. Maybe that's why Ed Markey and he get along so well. His low key voice rings of a gentler, kinder sarcasm but has a youthful charm despite that he is 30-something himself.
"Sometimes you have to call back. Sometimes you have to call over and over to get what you want. You have to keep in mind that the people at the other end of the phone are generally not as intelligent as a powered down computer." He proceeded to prove the point.
"Can I help you."
"Can I help you.:
Shhhhh. Ssshhh. Quiet. Shhhh. Too damned funny for words.
"I need some information."
"How can I help you."
"Is this where I get numbers?"
"What number would you like?"
"This is information."
"You said directory assistance."
"But I need information."
"What information do you need?"
"This is information."
"What's the number?"
"This is directory assistance."
"I need the number for information."
"What number do you want?"
Pause. Guffaws, some stifled, some less so. Funny stuff.
"Hold on please."
"Supervisor. May I help you?"
"Can I help you?"
"I need the number for information."
"This is directory assistance."
"What's the number for information?"
"This is information."
"What about directory assistance?"
"This is directory assistance."
"But I need information."
"This is information."
"Oh, OK. What's the number for information?"
"No. 555.1212 works too."
"So there's two numbers for information?"
"Which one is better?" How this audience kept its cool was beyond me. Me and my compatriots were beside ourselves.
"Then why are there two?"
"I don't know."
"OK. So I can use 411 or 555.1212."
"And which one should I use?"
"411 is faster." Huge guffaws. Ssshhhh. Ssshhhh..
"Oh. What about the ones?"
"The ones at the front of the number."
"Oh, those ones. You don't need ones. Just 411 or 555.1212.."
"My friends say they get to use ones." Big laugh. Shhhhhh.
"That's only for long distance."
"To where?" How does he keep a straight face?
"If you wanted 914 information you'd use a one."
"If I wanted to go where?"
"Oh, Westchester. I have friends there."
"So I use ones?"
"Yes. A one for the 914 area."
"Put a one before the number."
"Like 1914. Right?"
"All of those numbers?"
"That's three ones."
"That's the area code."
"I've heard about those. They confuse me." Rumbling chuckles and laughs throughout the hall.
She slowly and carefully explained what an area code is to the howlingly irreverent amusement of the entire crowd except for the fool narcs.
"Thanks. So I can call information and get a number?"
"And there's two numbers I can use?"
"So I got two numbers on one call?"
"Yeah . . ."
"Wow. Thanks. Have a nice day."
Comments heard around HOPE
Rop Gongrijjp, Hacktic: "The local phone companies use their own social engineers when they can't get their own people to tell them what they need to know."
Sprint is using what they consider to be the greatest access mechanism since the guillotine. For all of us road warriors out there who are forever needing long distance voice service from the Whattownisthis, USA airport, Sprint thinks they have a better mousetrap. No more messing finger entry. No more pass-codes or PIN's.
I remember at the Washington National Airport last summer I was using my Cable and Wireless long distance access card and entered the PIN and to my surprise, an automated voice came on and said, "Sorry, you entered your PIN with the wrong finger. Please try again."
Sprint says they've solved this thorny cumbersome problem with a service called "The Voice Fone Card". Instead of memorizing another 64 digit long PIN, you just speak into the phone: "Hi, it's me. Give me dial tone or give me death." The voice recognition circuits masturbate for a while to determine if it's really you or not.
Good idea. But according to Strat, not a good execution. Strat found that someone performing a poor imitation of his voice was enough to break through the front door with ease. Even a poor tape recording played back over a cheap cassette speaker was sufficient to get through Sprint's new whiz-banger ID system.
Strat laughed that Sprint officials said in defense, "We didn't say it was secure: just convenient."
Smart. Oh, so smart.
"If my generation of the late 60's and early 70's had had the same technology you guys have there never would have been an 80's." This was how I opened my portion of the author's panel.
The authors panel was meant to give HOPE hackers insight into how they are perceived from the so-called outside. I think the session achieved that well, and I understand the videos will be available soon.
The question of electronic transvestites on AOL came up to everyone's enjoyment, and all of us on the panel retorted with a big, "So what?" If you have cyber-sex with someone on the 'Net and enjoy it, what the hell's the difference? Uncomfortable butt shifting on chairs echoed how the largely male audience likely feels about male-male sex regardless of distance.
"Imagine," I kinda said, "that is a few years you have a body suit which not only can duplicate your moves exactly, but can touch you in surprisingly private ways when your suit is connected to another. In this VR world, you select the gorgeous woman of choice to virtually occupy the other suit, and then the two of you go for it. How do you react when you discover that like Lola, 'I know what I am, and what I am is a man and so's Lola.'" Muted acknowledgment that unisex may come to mean something entirely different in the not too distant future.
"Ooh, ooh, please call on me." I don't mean to be insulting, but purely for identification purposes, the woman behind the voice bordered on five foot four and four hundred pounds. Her bathtub had stretch marks.
I never called on her but that didn't stop her.
"I want to know what you think of how the democratization of the internet is affected by the differences between the government and the people who think that freedom of the net is the most important thing and that government is fucked but for freedom to be free you have to have the democracy behind you which means that the people and the government need to, I mean, you know, and get along but the sub culture of the hackers doesn't help the government but hackers are doing their thing which means that the democracy will not work , now I know that people are laughing and giggling (which they were in waves) but I'm serious about this and I know that I have a bad case of hypomania but the medication is working so it's not a bad as it could be. What do you think?"
I leaned forward into the microphone and gave the only possible answer. "I dunno. Next." The thunderous round of applause which followed my in-depth response certainly suggested that my answer was correct. Not politically, not technically, but anarchistically. Flexibility counts.
HOPE was attended by around one thousands folks, and the Hotel Filthadelphia still stands. (Aw shucks.)
My single biggest complaint was not that the schedules slipped by an hour or two or three; sessions at conferences like this keep going if the audience is into them and they are found to be educational and productive. So an hour session can run into two if the material and presentations fit the mood. In theory a boring session could find itself kama kazi'd into early melt-down if you have the monotone bean counter from hell explaining the distributed statistical means of aggregate synthetic transverse digitization in composite analogous integral fruminations. (Yeah, this audience would buy off on that in a hot minute.) But there were not any bad sessions. The single track plenary style attracted hundred of hackers for every event. Emmanuel and friends picked their panels and speakers well. When dealing with sponge-like minds who want to soak up all they can learn, even in somewhat of a party atmosphere, the response is bound to be good.
My single biggest complaint was the registration nightmare. I'd rather go the DMV and stand in line there than get tagged by the seemingly infinite lines at HOPE. At DefCon early registration was encouraged and the sign up verification kept simple.
For some reason I cannot thoroughly (or even partially) fathom, a two step procedure was chosen. Upon entering, and before the door narcs would let anyone in, each attendee had to be assigned a piece of red cardboard with a number on it. For the first day you could enter the 'exhibits' and auditorium without challenge. But by Day 2 one was expected to wait in line for the better part of a week, have a digital picture taken on a computer tied to a CCD camera, and then receive a legitimate HOPE photo-ID card. What a mess. I don't have to beat them up on it too bad; they know the whole scheme was rotten to the core.
I waited till near the end of Day 2 when the lines were gone and the show was over. That's when I got my Photo ID card. I used the MIB's photo ID card the rest of the time.
HOPE was a lot of fun and I was sorry to see it end, but as all experiences, there is a certain amount of letdown. After a great vacation, or summer camp, or a cruise, or maybe even after Woodstock, a tear welts up. Now I didn't cry that HOPE was over, but an intense 48 hours with hackers is definitely not your average computer security convention that only rolls from 9AM to Happy Hour. At a hacker conference, you snooze, you lose. You never know what is going to happen next - so much is spontaneous and unplanned - and it generally is highly educational, informative and entertaining.
Computer security folks: you missed an event worth attending. You missed some very funny entertainment. You missed some fine young people dressed in some fine garb. You missed the chance to meet with your perceived 'enemy'. You missed the opportunity to get inside the heads of the generation that knows more about keyboards than Huck Finning in suburbia. You really missed something, and you should join Robert MIB Steele and I at the next hacker conference.
If only I had known.
If only I had known that tornadoes had been dancing up and down 5th avenue I would have stayed at the Hotel Filthadelphia for another night.
La Guardia airport was closed. Flights were up to 6 hours delayed if not out and out canceled. Thousands of stranded travelers hunkered down for the night. If only I had known.
Wait, wait. Hours to wait. And then, finally, a plane ready and willing to take off and swerve and dive between thunderbolts and twisters and set me on my way home.
My kids were bouncing out of the car windows when my wife picked me up at the airport somewhere in the vicinity of 1AM.
"Not too late are you dear?" Sweet Southern Sarcasm from my Sweet Southern Wife.
"Don't blame me," I said in all seriousness. "It was the hackers. They caused the whole thing."
Notice: This article is free, and the author encourages responsible widespread electronic distribution of the document in full, not piecemeal. No fees may be charged for its use. For hard copy print rights, please contact the author and I'll make you an offer you can't refuse. The author retains full copyrights to the contents and the term Cyber-Christ.
Winn is the author of "Terminal Compromise", a novel detailing a fictionalized account of a computer war waged on the United States. After selling well as a book-store-book, Terminal Compromise was placed on the Global Network as the world's first Novel-on-the-Net Shareware and has become an underground classic. (Gopher TERMCOMP.ZIP)
His new non-fiction book, "Information Warfare: Chaos on the Electronic Superhighway" is a compelling, non-technical analysis of personal privacy, economic and industrial espionage and national security. He calls for the creation of a National Information Policy, a Constitution in Cyberspace and an Electronic Bill of Rights.
He may be reached at INTER.PACT, 11511 Pine St., Seminole, FL. 34642. 813-393-6600, fax 813-393-6361, E-Mail: P00506@psilink.com.