This weekend an unlikely gathering of computer nerds converges on Las Vegas for Defcon -hackers with the means to destroy our business and defence systems. But the CIA and FBI are on their case, reports Jeremy Hart -not busting them, but hiring them With long, slow inhalations, Steve Ellington ingests oxygen filtered through a concoction of caffeine and legal cannabis. With each breath the veins in his head and neck bulge alarmingly.
THE arms race between hackers and the guardians of computer networks looks set to intensify with the development of "chameleon code". The new weapon could leave networks defenceless as malicious hackers gain access undetected. Hackers routinely break into networks using "scripts", instructions they send to the network to allow them to issue commands remotely. The hackers' new tool, known as polymorphic code, camouflages scripts so they can evade detection.
Conference organizers call it the "annual computer underground party for hackers," and Defcon is known as much for its technical content as its beer-tinged hijinks. Pranks like smoke bombs in hotel pools, portions of telephone trucks mysteriously appearing in the convention hall, and concrete dumped in toilets have earned Defcon a reputation as a kind of annual hacker bacchanalia.
We're from the government and we want you to help us. That was the message that from a seven-member "Meet the Fed" panel, where government officials answered the questions of a roomful of hackers at the Def Con conference here Saturday. Including members of law enforcement, a congressman and security experts, the panel illuminated the problems the government has in securing systems and appealed to hackers not to make it any harder--both to help the government and to help themselves.
At the world's largest hacker convention -- a raucous and paranoid gathering of loners given to black T-shirts and wild pranks -- the veterans had a message for the younger, up-and-coming hackers: go straight. The opportunities of a career in business and the risks of a life of cybercrime was the serious subtext to the DefCon conference this week, where attendees are notorious for jamming hotel video systems, pouring cement down toilets, and getting the group banned from past venues.