Hacker Games: From Trivia to Wrestling
Attendees clamor to spot Feds and hack the DefCon network.
Andrew Brandt, PC World
Saturday, July 10, 1999
it ain't. The convention of computer geeks meeting here this weekend
built a conference network for attendees to hack, awards prizes for
spotting federal agents in the crowd, and heralds a hot hacker trivia
It's DefCon, the annual gathering of self-described hackers, security
professionals, and--yes--federal agents keeping an eye on the action.
More than 2500 of them braved the recent desert floods to attend the
DefCon organizers design the tracks and events to draw the young hacker
elite that make up the majority of people at the show, according to
Jeff Moss (also known as Dark Tangent), organizer of DefCon 7. The
agenda includes more serious sessions on security technology, as well
as a number of off-the-wall events. And DefCon's creative attractions
rival those of Las Vegas itself, no slouch when it comes to the unique
Spot the Fed
As surely as hackers gather to swap information, federal officials
intermingle to try to glean whatever they can from the rowdy discussion
groups. If a convention-goer suspects another attendee is a federal
agent (of whatever stripe), they announce a spontaneous Fed Spotting.
Then, DefCon organizers haul the accusing hacker and the suspected fed
before an informal tribunal. Each must make a case: The hacker explains
why the suspect is likely a Fed, and the accused agent must defend the
The crowd of patrons issues a ruling--and sometimes the accused
obligingly or resignedly produces ID. T-shirts are awarded: The accuser
gets one that reads "I Spotted The Fed," while the agent's T-shirt
reads, "I Am The Fed."
A hacker's convention couldn't overlook a skills competition. The most
overwhelmingly geeky event of the convention is a digital version of
Capture the Flag.
Attendees connect their own computers to a special local area network,
trying to break into servers set up by the organizers. The playing
field is rows of tables covered with computers, where participants
furiously type command-line code trying to break into the contest
systems. Once a hacker compromises the house server, the next task is
to secure it from other hackers and keep his or her own system secure
DefCon attendees also plug in to play networked games every night (all
night). The LAN-gaming group IRQ hosts IRQ Conflict, a game room where
attendees can bring their own gaming systems and find online
competitors for Quake II and other networked games.
Another late-night event is Hacker Jeopardy. The games begin at 11 p.m.
every night of the convention, hosted by computer security expert Winn
Schwartau in the style of the television game show. The audience acts
as arbiters of good taste or the quality of the questioning. The
penalty for missteps is a drink, which produces some intoxicated
Hackers Get Physical
Sometimes the hackers exercise more than their fingers. A new event at DefCon '99 is the Hacker Deathmatch.
Contestants climb into of inflatable sumo wrestling suits, under the
eye of official-looking referees. All comers are welcome to stage a
grudge match against friends (or enemies) as a tension release.
Notable wrestling competitors included encryption expert Bruce Schneier
against an unknown college student (Schneier lost handily) and a PC World versus LinuxWorld match. PC World took an early lead, but then lost quickly to LinuxWorld's lithe contestant.
The formal event of DefCon is the Black and White Ball. Half Halloween
party and half rave, this evening event invites hackers and their dates
to dress in costumes or formalwear and rock the night away.
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