|Computerworld > News > Enterprise Computing > Tuesday, 13 July, 1999|
Hack-a-thon demos the latest flavour of chaos
Cult of the Dead Cow draws nearly all 3500 to its launch event
Andrew Brandt, SAN FRANCISCO
at the past weekend's DefCon conference covered a wide range of topics,
from legal, ethical, and technical issues of hacking, to details about
new discoveries and creations of the participants. Breakout sessions
included everything from "The Art and Science of Enemy Profiling" to
"Hacking Las Vegas," with special attention paid to the "Spot the Fed"
game that spanned all three days.
By day two, DefCon attendance records had been broken. Estimates that
an additional 1,000 people arrived on Saturday (after about 2,500
arrivals on Friday) were hard to deny when the Cult of the Dead Cow
(cDc) drew nearly every attendee into the largest conference room for
its highly produced software launch event.
The announcement of the latest version of cDc's freely available remote
administration hacking toolkit (named Back Orifice 2000) was the most
highly anticipated event at DefCon. The follow-up to last year's
release of Back Orifice, the new software (referred to by its initials
BO2K) adds new features and was rewritten from the ground up to run
faster. The program allows anyone to take complete control of another
PC and have complete access to hard drive partitions and shared network
In an incredibly crowded conference room people sat, stood, or hung
from any available space as the lights dimmed and music blared from a
pair of loudspeakers. cDc members walked into the totally dark room and
threw glowing stickers and 20 copies of Back Orifice 2000 into the
In true cult form, a cDc member wearing a sheepskin vest and chaps
paced the stage, preached the "gospel" of the hacker group, and made
fun of Microsoft. cDc members A.J. Reznor and Dild0g demonstrated the
program's functionality to control another system on displays.
(Hackers later in the day distributed a bootleg, virus-infected copy of
the program. cDc quickly denied involvement, warned attendees not to
use the unofficial distribution, and handed out new CDs labeled "virus
free" and personally signed by cDc member Count Zero the next day.)
Human Cyborg Struts His Stuff
Another of the more interesting conferences took place Sunday when
University of Toronto professor Steve Mann demonstrated his cyborg-like
head-mounted camera device in a talk entitled "Personal Cybernetics."
Mann, a former student at the MIT Media Laboratory, has spent the past
decade improving upon his invention -- a small camera and display
device mounted to a variety of head gear that allows the wearer to
transmit whatever he or she is seeing, in real time, over the Internet.
In his talk, which he gave from his office in Toronto over a
speakerphone and with a feed to his visor display, Mann discussed a
concept he calls mediated reality. To Mann, the most important use of
the technology involves using the head-mounted display and camera in
conjunction with powerful computers to "filter" what a person sees
One of Mann's goals is to develop the technology to allow people to
eliminate the "visual spam," or advertising that surrounds a person in
the modern environment. Mann demonstrated how he took an advertisement
for a brand of condoms that was posted over a urinal in a public
bathroom and replaced it in real time with a static image of a
waterfall. "A far more appropriate picture under the circumstances,"
Convicted Hacker Speaks
Former hacker and current TV personality Kevin Poulsen gave another of
the anxiously awaited talks at DefCon. Poulsen was convicted and jailed
for hacking into military computer systems. A poster boy for both pro-
and anti-hacker camps, he currently hosts a cable television show about
The soft-spoken Poulsen and his attorney, Jennifer Grannick, gave a
short presentation about how the fourth and fifth amendments to the
Constitution pertain to hackers. They also showed a five-minute profile
of Poulsen from the crime-fighter TV series America's Most Wanted, at
times eliciting raucous laughter from the audience.