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Hacker event closes with social engineering, Jello

The HOPE conference ended on an upbeat note

By Geeta Dayal
July 25, 2006 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - The final day of the Hackers on Planet Earth (HOPE) conference in New York celbrated the hacker spirit -- an upbeat finish for an audience still in shock from Saturday's surprise FBI arrest of invited speaker Steve Rambam.

Jello Biafra, former lead singer of iconic punk-rock band the Dead Kennedys and an outspoken speaker on politics, began his keynote speech on Sunday talking about the arrest. Biafra, a speaker at several previous HOPE conferences, remarked that the conference felt more "spook-heavy" than previous ones. "I don't think that's necessarily bad," he said. "I think it's important to come face to face with people who have a lot of power."

Biafra, sporting a shirt proclaiming "Bush Hates Me," launched into a fiery two-hour stream-of-consciousness speech extolling the right to privacy and freedom of expression. As he had at previous HOPEs, he sharply criticized the actions of several individuals and institutions, including the Bush government and his former band, who he said had exploited the Dead Kennedys' name for their own financial gain.

Biafra also denounced the actions of the RIAA and the mainstream music industry. "If anyone's turned file sharing into a scam, it's the RIAA and the major labels," the owner of the Alternative Tentacles label said. He praised the audience, saying, "You will be remembered as some of the greatest patriots the world has ever seen."

Other panels that day were less dramatic and more practical: a discussion on the privacy of e-commerce, a session on tracksploits (a forensic method of gaining intelligence against phishers, distributors, "black hat" hackers and malware authors), and a hands-on panel on "Privacy Through Technology," which aimed to show wireless laptop users how to use cryptographic tools to protect browsing, e-mail, and instant messaging while connected to potentially insecure networks. This included a discussion on the open-source tools Tor and Privoxy to protect digital identity while Web surfing, and the encryption of VoIP calls using Gizmo and Zfone, an open-source tool developed by PGP inventor Phil Zimmermann.

The by-now-legendary panel on "social engineering" drew, as expected, the most attendees. Eric "Emmanuel Goldstein" Corley, the editor of the hacking quarterly 2600 (which sponsors HOPE), led a demonstration of ways to coax information out of unsuspecting individuals -- uproarious for many, and somewhat sobering for those attendees whose businesses put them on the target side of the firing range.

Armed with a phone book and a telephone connected to the conference hall's PA system, Corley gave a live demonstration of how easy it was to impersonate someone else on the phone -- and to fool the person at the other end of the line into divulging sensitive information. He cautioned the audience to keep their private details secure.

In a discussion on underground documentaries, Jason Scott, the filmmaker who chronicled the history of bulletin board systems in BBS: The Documentary, joined the young Canadian filmmaker Julian McArdle, who recently made On Piracy, a documentary on illegal downloading. Scott recounted the challenges he faced in filming BBS and shared his inspirations. "I noticed that it was getting to be 2001 and nobody had made the Time-Life series of BBSes," he said.

Scott is currently shooting a documentary on text adventure games.

Read more about Cybercrime and Hacking in Computerworld's Cybercrime and Hacking Topic Center.

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