Technology

Hackers Say They Want a Revolution


NEW YORK--The three-day H2K2 conference wrapped up here Sunday night, having

pulled in an estimated two thousand hackers, ex-hackers, security pros and

activists to swap war stories and tips, hack the venue and each other, and

engage in some navel gazing on their subcultures' place in the post dot-com

era.

As in years past, the bi-annual gathering at the gloomy Hotel Pennsylvania

provided hackers with an anti-establishment alternative to the bigger,

brighter and more commercial DefCon convention that takes place in Las Vegas

later in the summer. Short on technical talks and tee-shirt vendors, long

on lefty political philosophy and fiery manifestos, the conference was

exemplified by one of its keynote speakers: Aaron McGruder, writer and

illustrator of the often-controversial nationally-syndicated daily comic

strip The Boondocks.

Last year, McGruder used his space in the

funny pages to criticize the motion picture industry for its legal efforts

to squash DeCSS, a computer program that defeats the scrambling system on

DVD movies. His talk Saturday was peppered with biting humor, as he railed

against the Bush administration, corporate-controlled mass media, political

corruption, financial scandal and U.S. foreign policy, declaring that

nothing short of a revolution could restore honesty to government.

Evoking the anti-war movement of the 1960s, McGruder compared the activism

of that era with the original Star Wars trilogy -- spirited rebels advancing

their cause though the sheer power of their numbers. But the future, he

said, could be seen in a more recent sci-fi franchise. "The new parable for

our time is The Matrix," said McGruder. "Five people, but five people who

are really good at computers. That seems to be the only battlefield where

the revolution can actually be won."

McGruder's talk drew a rare standing ovation from the hackers packed into

the conference hall. But in other sessions, the attendees themselves had a

less romanticized view of their world. San Francisco hacker and activist

"Gweeds" slammed those hackers who traded their anarchistic ethic for jobs

in the "military industrial security complex," i.e., the raft of computer

security companies that sprang up in the dot-com era.

After joining or starting security firms, hackers invariably support the

agendas of law enforcement, defense and intelligence agencies determined to

hype the hacker threat and increase their own budgets, Gweeds said. "They're

making money, sure, but they're also extending the reach of the Federal

police state," said Gweeds.

Gweeds' sermon triggered a twinge of conscience in 24-year-old "Sloppy,"

formerly a member of Hagis, a hacking group that enjoyed notoriet

y in the late 1990s after defacing NASA, Yahoo, Greenpeace and other

sites with messages protesting the imprisonment of hacker Kevin Mitnick. "I

identify with Gweeds on a lot of this," Sloppy said after the talk.

Sloppy now works for a respected computer security firm, which

SecurityFocus Online agreed not to identify, and he says he sometimes does

forensic work on systems that have been hacked. He admits to mixed feelings

about working in the industry. "When they hired me, they asked, 'With your

hacking background, how would you feel if it came up that you had to testify

against another hacker?''" says Sloppy. He recalls reluctantly answering

that he'd testify in his professional role, if he had to. "I said, I

wouldn't lie or anything."

"It's hard to make a living unless you're with a security company," says the

ex-hacker.

Gweeds admits he doesn't have a good alternative for hackers determined to

make a comfortable living. "I just think that it's dangerous, because you

don't think of your friend who might go to jail," he said after the talk. By Kevin Poulsen


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