Hackers Play Games at Annual Convention

BySascha Segan

L A S   V E G A S, July 30, 2001 -- He’s a Fed. She snitched him out. Can they find love?

Life started echoing reality TV at Defcon, the world’s largest hacker convention, when a 32-year-old system administrator named Tahkara picked an Air Force reserveman named Brian out of the crowd, pegged him as a “fed,” and then convention organizers set them up on a date.

“Spot the Fed” is one of the hackers’ favorite games at the annual convention, usually well-attended by federal agents looking for intelligence. Tahkara said she’d pegged Brian because, “how much normaler can you get looking?”

She admitted she’d gone looking for a “cute fed.”

“I’d rather spot a cute fed than an ugly fed any day,” she said.

Fed-Friendly Convention

Though the hackers and script kiddies at Defcon freely trade pirated software, scan cell phone frequencies for unprotected conversations, and wreak havoc with the hotel’s closed-circuit TV system, there’s a large and notable government presence at Defcon this year.

Assistant Secretary of Defense Arthur Money kicked the convention off with a “meet the fed” panel where he and other military leaders exhorted hackers to join forces with the government and play with what one official called “the most sophisticated toys in the world.”

Even “the con’s ” most chaotic, theatrical presentation had a moral message. The Cult of the Dead Cow, a hacker group, announced a new way to take down many Windows-based networks in eight minutes or less, before their table was attacked by a man in a gorilla suit and their show devolved into a revival rally-cum-rock concert where CDC members threw raw meat into the audience.

Defacing Web pages and running denial-of-service attacks has to stop, CDC members said.

“You can stop now. It’s just not going to be cool,” a CDC member on the panel told the audience.

Rave Against the Machine

By Saturday night, the hackers had swung into hard-core partying mode. Some of the parties looked like high school keggers, with a few geeky guys clinging to the walls. A bachelor-party attitude pervaded the con, with guys at the “hacker jeopardy” game pleading for the hostess to strip and various male-dominated parties trying to get women to show up.

Some of the parties were more gender-balanced counterculture mingling affairs, with vinyl-clad women and various guys being serenaded by an accordion player doing Nine Inch Nails covers. The feds were there, too.

At midnight, Tahkara and her fed were doing just fine. They’d dressed up, gone dancing, and were having fun together.

“It’s wonderful,” she gushed.

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