Hackers - Naughty and Nice

As it turned out, several of the two dozen assembled members of the press said they'd like a drink, thank you, and maybe another one downstairs by the pool where hackers and feds reclined in punishing Las Vegas heat.

Over 6,000 people descended on the Alexis Park Hotel for this year's Def Con event, which featured the curious spectacle of U.S. Department of Defence IT managers begging hackers to work for them.

"We've got some of the most sophisticated toys in the world if you'd like access to those toys" murmured Dick Schafer, the DOD's director of information assurance, from Def Con's main stage.

Of course the boys and girls in boots and earpieces jacking in via Ethernet in the crowded hallways may not have been terribly eager to match civil service requirements.

"We are struggling with whether we need changes in personnel practices from the classic Beaver Cleaver profile for who is trustworthy," conceded the tired CIA man when he finally emerged from the men's room.

Indeed, some of the assembled hackers, many of whom appeared to be under 21, did engage in bits of naughtiness. They were admonished by conference organizers for setting off smoke bombs, releasing bubble bath in the pool, stealing phones, lighting small fires and reportedly pouring concrete down the toilets.

"We've been kicked out of all the other hotels on the strip," warned one organizer who paced the stage in frustration. "Unless you want us to hold this in the middle of the desert, behave, or we will drag you off."

A CNN cameraman was in fact hauled away for violating the prohibition against panning the crowd. But the vast majority of attendees were simply there to exchange useful information and party with their friends. The Bastard Operators From Hell (BOFH) hunkered down behind their network defenses protecting their hosts from teams of attacking hackers in the annual Capture the Flag game. Late night rounds of Hacker Jeopardy unearthed arcane hacker trivia. Live bands and DJs offered high volume counterpoint to the rounds of private room parties. During the Fifth Annual Black and White Ball, a stunning man drifted by in a long skirt and shoes laced with glowing electro luminescent wire.

Wearing all black and a pained expression, Jericho, a.k.a. Brian Martin of attrition.org, said he was discouraged by the pressing crowds in the three conference rooms designed to hold a total of only 2,800 people. Martin said it made it hard to see the slides.

But the workshop sessions were beside the point.

"The most useful thing about being here," said Martin. "Is that it is the one time of year that I get to see in one place, at one time, everyone I know."

Some attendees did venture out into the bright lights of Las Vegas to interface with the local population. There were excursions to the local shooting range and visits to the bar at the local Star Trek exhibit for a notorious cocktail called the Warp Core Breach. Several hackers braved an amusement called The Big Shot which propelled them 160 feet at a force of 4Gs up the needle tower of the Stratosphere Casino.

"They're tough, they're relentless," confided one taxi driver. Def Con hackers? "No, no," said the driver. "The 30,000 Avon Ladies in town this weekend -- stay away from them."

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Ann Harrison

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