HOPE 2000 hackfest hits New York

NEW YORK -- HOPE 2000, this year's edition of the once-every-three-years hackfest sponsored by the hacker quarterly 2600, took off in its usual free-for-all melee style last week -- grungy accommodations, all-night hacking fests and tutorial schedules that went all to hell. Last weekend's conference was, however, the most peaceable HOPE on record. A summary that appears on the 2600 Web site states the conference had "virtually no trouble of any kind, either at the conference or the hotel."

It all began last Thursday and Friday, when bedraggled, black-clad hackers poured into the Pennsylvania Hotel and began plugging into the 18th-floor conference network. For three days they hacked each other's machines, chatted on Internet Relay Chat with their intelligent heys and yos. They also played one-up computer games between conference sessions and scavenging for food.

But while they boasted of hacking lit-up road signs (changing them to say "Hack Planet Earth") and phreaking (telephone hacking/eavesdropping), at least half of the attendees at this year's HOPE (Hackers on Planet Earth) could be called "yuppie" techies. Back in 1997, at "Beyond HOPE," nine out of 10 attendees looked rebellious, subversive and downright scary with their multiple body piercings; tattoos; red, blue and green hair; and black leather -- not to mention all kinds of phone phreaking gear, short-wave radios, lock picks and HERF guns (High Energy Radio Frequency gizmos that could blow out a computer from afar) dangling from their attire. At HOPE 2000, those rebels made up less than half of attendees.

The yuppies seemed clueless about the technical skills of some of the old-time rebel hackers who wrote much of the hacker code in use today. Captain Crunch? He's weird, said one yuppie hacker working the press room. But to the rebel hackers, the toothless, 57-year-old Crunch is "totally rad."

Other yuppie geeks thought that most anyone who didn't look "normal" was "weird." One group of yuppies picked out the DataHaven folks who shipped more than 100 terminals to the network room and spent the wee hours of Friday morning setting them up. Other than their black-and-red DataHaven T-shirts, they didn't otherwise seem any weirder than your typical intense geek.

Many of the yuppies walked out during the Cult of the Dead Cow's traditional rabid rock show, which is understandable, given the thrown-together stage play featuring lots of fake blood and brown stuff I won't name here. But by leaving early, they missed the only good technical part of the conference -- a new packaged attack created by the Cult's Sir Dystic (pronounced Distic) against the CDC's all-time favorite target, Microsoft.

Dystic says he has created a NetBIOS decoder that tricks the NetBIOS name service on a Windows machine into thinking its name is in use somewhere else on the network, confusing that machine and knocking it off the network, or keeping it from ever joining the network in the first place.

Scott Culp, program manager at Microsoft's Security Response Center, says Microsoft is working on an update for the problem.

"The NetBIOS protocol is susceptible to the attack," he explains. "In NetBIOS, there's a provision made to send a command to any other machine to say, 'Hey, the name you're using has already been claimed by another machine so you have to relinquish that name.' "

Microsoft's update "will allow an administrator to configure the Windows machine to only accept the command under certain conditions," Culp says. "The effect will be to reduce the ability of a malicious user to send one of these commands and make a machine give up its name."

The attack will be a problem in any machine that uses NetBIOS, Culp says, including some non-Windows operating systems. He can't say when an update will be ready because the company is testing against thousands of applications in Microsoft's labs.

However, Microsoft had better hurry, because Dystic threatened to release the program at next week's hacker conference, Defcon.

Another interesting moment at HOPE was a legal panel where the Electronic Freedom Frontier Foundation (EFF) explained its position in the Universal City Studios vs. 2600 magazine case. In January, Universal filed suit against 2600 for posting a link to source code that de-scrambles DVD encryption, charging that the software allows users to make pirate copies of DVD films. The crux of the case is really about what the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) actually says and how it applies to the defendant's contract.

"The DMCA is an attempt to extend copyright law into cyberspace. In this case, the DMCA is attempting to dictate how you play back what you've already bought," said Robin Gross, lead EFF attorney on the case. "When you buy a DVD, can you access content on whatever machine you own? No."

On Sunday, about 600 remaining hackers, phone phreaks, yuppies and geeks packed up their gear and hung out wearily in the hotel lobby as they waited for rides home, their droopy eyes and slouched bodies telling the story words could not.

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Copyright © 2000 IDG Communications, Inc.

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