[ISN] For Hackers, Shop Talk, a Warning and Advice
isn at c4i.org
Mon Jul 12 05:05:12 EDT 2004
By NICHOLAS THOMPSON
July 12, 2004
Stephen Wozniak, a founder of Apple Computer, was speaking to the
choir Saturday at a conference in Midtown Manhattan, recalling an era
when the word "hackers" referred to technological wizards, not rogue
His choir was a group of self-described hackers, about 2,000 of them,
listening to Mr. Wozniak's keynote speech at the H.O.P.E. conference -
Hackers on Planet Earth - put on by the hacker magazine 2600 News.
Mr. Wozniak described his relationship with John T. Draper, a man who
became known as "Captain Crunch" 35 years ago when he showed how a
plastic whistle that came in Cap'n Crunch cereal boxes could be used
to manipulate the national phone system.
Mr. Wozniak said he had not cared that the technology could save him a
few dimes. Rather, he said, he found it wonderful that a simple tool,
cleverly used, could control something complicated and powerful in a
In an interview before the speech, Mr. Wozniak, 53, lamented that
people now "think of hackers as terrorists" and argued that this fear
had caused the government to give undeservedly harsh punishments to
violators of computer fraud statutes.
In his speech, Mr. Wozniak supported this argument by pointing out the
many pranks he had pulled with his technical talents. For example, Mr.
Wozniak said he once used his skills with the telephone system to
place a free call to the pope.
Another trick Mr. Wozniak said he enjoyed was using a device that
could jam and unjam television reception, manipulating it so that the
image would become clear only when other people did strange things to
their screens. He once did this to a college classmate until his
target thought the only way to keep the picture focused was to place a
hand on the center of the monitor and keep one foot propped up on a
chair. The hacking that many people fear, Mr. Wozniak said, "is often
just some kid trying to do something funny."
Much of the conference was focused on making arguments for less
monitoring and control of computer networks by the government.
Speakers stood at lecterns in front of large red posters declaring
"Big Brother is watching you."
Many sessions aimed to help hackers improve their technical skills,
like their ability to send encrypted e-mail messages. Other events
focused on tools that could help secure computer systems or break into
them. One workshop trained participants how to pick locks.
Many participants and speakers acknowledged that they had used their
technical skills to violate the law. But they rationalized their
actions, saying their main goal was to expose flaws in corporate
computer systems to spur better data protection and thus privacy for
"We point out weak security," said Emmanuel Goldstein, the chief
organizer of the conference.
Mr. Draper, 62, said, "If a hacker breaks into a company's system, and
that system isn't properly secured, that company should be held
Government authorities dispute the idea that hackers should set their
own criteria for right and wrong and can justify violating the law by
claiming service to a greater goal. A Justice Department Web page
aimed at young hackers describes the punishment meted out to a hacker
who had used the Internet to disrupt the phones at an airport and
knock out service for 600 homes in Boston. "Hacking can get you in a
whole lot more trouble than you think and is a completely creepy thing
to do," the site warns.
But the illegality of hacking is also an attraction. "It's a game. You
want to get into the best system, leave your mark," and then get out,
said Jason Schorr, 18, from the Bronx.
"There's always an attraction to being naughty," said Robert Osband, a
hacker from Florida who had, like Mr. Wozniak, learned his skills on
the old phone system.
Like many older hackers, Mr. Wozniak reveled in his past exploits and
warned young people intrigued by the dark possibilities of hacking to
avoid doing harm, despite the temptation.
"There are two kinds of people here," said Mike Roadancer, the
conference's head of security, while shuttling between two groups of
hackers - one trying to break into the conference's computer network
and the other trying to protect it. "There are the old-timers. A lot
of those guys are running their own venture capital operations or have
made millions in the security business. Then you have the ones I
consider to be kids that just really need to be turned over somebody's
Dave Walker, a 19-year-old hacker from Rochester, who sat with
friends, all tapping at laptops, insisted that he was not one of the
people attacking the conference network. But he did not deny that he
might try later. "It's a hacker conference. At some point, you've got
to try to hack the system," he said.
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