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U.S. to Hackers: 'Join Us'
Kevin Poulsen, SecurityFocus 2000-07-28

Hackers and feds meet in Vegas as the eighth annual DefCon begins.

LAS VEGAS -- The DefCon hacker convention opened here Friday, and hackers, government agents and reporters gathered in the cavernous Alexis Park hotel conference room for the opening panel: an perennial favorite titled "Meet the Feds," which each year features a gaggle of government officials lecturing the cyberpunks. Their message this year: Uncle Sam Wants You.
Arthur Money

"The whole game has changed," said Arthur L. Money, the U.S. assistant secretary of defense for command, control, communications and intelligence (C3I), and the highest-ranking government official to speak at the convention, now in its eighth year. Money said that he believes that terrorists and foreign government are attacking defense computers over the Internet, and that recreational hack attacks make it more difficult to pick out state sponsored assaults. "That may sound like shits and giggles, but it's serious," said Money.

Instead of adding to the problem, patriotic hackers should enlist in the armed forces, or go to work for defense contractors. "Join us," Money urged a standing-room only crowd.

"We've got some of the most sophisticated toys in the world. And if you'd like to gain access to those toys and become part of an elite team, then we want to talk to you," said Dick Schaefer, the Pentagon's director of infrastructure and information assurance.

Attendees who asked questions responded with some skepticism to the offer, and quizzed the panel on policy issues. Hackers, mostly politely, buffeted Money with questions on proposed legislation that would expedite the tracking of Internet users, his opposition to unregulated encryption and his support for a stike-back policy involving retaliatory "electron kills" of cyber attackers. "The government has shown itself to be untrustworthy in the past," said one attendee.

Money also claimed that hackers had changed blood type records at a military hospital. He said in all, attacks on defense computers cost taxpayers $25 billion dollars last year. Twenty-five billion dollars represents almost ten percent of the 1999 defense budget.

Another conference-goer asked panel members for their opinion on the FBI's "Carnivore" Internet surveillance system, the recent subject of congressional inquiry. James Christy, an Air Force senior computer crime investigator, responded that the controversy amounted to a tempest in a teapot. "It's just a packet sniffer," said Christy, who added that the Air Force had been using a similar system for years. "We call ours Sniffy."

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