, SecurityFocus 2000-07-31
For three days five thousand people filled the hacker convention in Las Vegas and overflowed into nearby casinos and strip clubs. Here are the most often heard comments from DefCon.
Government agents were darn nice to everyone.
This never-ending refrain at the con was an admonishment to the twenty or so camera crews who were prowling for telegenic hackers with green hair and multiple piercings. As a courtesy both to the hackers in attendance, and the cops and spies sent to watch them, camera crews were told to get permission before shooting anyone's face. When covering a conference session, they were asked to eschew the customary shots of the audience.
Some camera operators couldn't resist an occasional pan -- which did nothing to improve already-strained relations between the hackers and the press. That relationship is best illustrated by the design of the conference-issued press credentials, which featured the word PRESS above an image of a blue gel cap. Regular conference passes had a red pill. There is no spoon.
By far the most common sentiment expressed at the mostly-adolescent male hack fest was admiration for attendees of the fairer sex, who, while still a minority, showed up in greater numbers than at previous DefCons. The consensus among those who felt strongly enough to comment aloud was that female conference-goers were hot, well-groomed, and more interesting than the electronic Capture the Flag competition.
Asked to explain what was drawing in the DefCon babes, one woman theorized that many male attendees of the conference - now in its eighth year -- had outgrown their awkward stage and become hot, well-groomed DefCon dudes.
Government agents were out in force at the conference, and were darn nice to everyone. Jack Holloran flew in from the National Security Agency and put a friendly face on the much-maligned super spy shop by passing out NSA calendars and children's cryptography activity books (unclassified), and generally being a nice guy that everyone could plainly see would never be a party to anything like a global electronic surveillance network. Was it all an act? No. He works at the NSA's wholesome computer security annex, and admits he hasn't set foot in Fort Meade in years. "It's hard to find parking," he says.
Speaking of Echelon, a high-ranking official from the office of the Director of Central Intelligence did -- in a background Q&A session for DefCon's press corps on Sunday. The official claimed that the technology doesn't even exist to affordably build a surveillance network of the scale on which critics contend Echelon operates.
The briefing followed an unplanned session in which the official, who had been attending the conference to quietly observe hackers, allowed hackers to ask him questions.
Why all this sudden glasnost? One can only theorize. But in the pressroom, the official suggested that the intelligence community may now be looking at hackers as more than budding national security threats who can't pass a polygraph screening. "We are struggling with whether or not we need some changes in our personnel vetting practices."