Tuesday, August 12, 2008

And Now, Back to Our Regular Programming

These Klingons are not the folks you need to worry about, not that I think anyone would. Look, they aren't even carrying BlackBerries, much less iPhones. (I was surprised how low-tech the Star Trek con was.)

No, these are the folks to worry about:

I don't know how often this happens, but this year the annual Star Trek con and the DefCon convention overlapped in Las Vegas, though at different hotels.

Did I know what DefCon was?
I did not.

So when three guys with DefCon badges came into the Hilton coffee bar to use the wi-fi and discovered it was not free (as it has been in previous years), I--in full Star Trek Love Puppy mode--said to one of them,
"Gee, if you just need to check something quickly, you can use my laptop."
(They are probably still laughing to themselves about this.)

"That's very nice of you," one of them said, "but that's OK. You don't want to let these guys touch your computer."
And off they went, back to their con at the Riviera Hotel.

When they left, a Trekker at the next table leaned over and said vehemently to me,
"Don't let the Black Hats touch your computer!"

And she explained to me that Def Con is the hackers convention, and "black hats" are hackers with malicious intent.

So I googled DefCon.
Huh. It almost restores my faith in humanity that those three hackers didn't to take up my Innocent of Heart offer and totally fuck up my life.

You can imagine my delighted curiosity, then, when I found myself sitting next to a young man wearing a Def Con cap, on the shuttle bus to the airport.

"Hey!" I said, "I was just at the Star Trek con--tell me about your con!"

Wow, guys.
Maybe you know all this already, but this guy blew my mind.
Or rather, it was the couple in front of us, a young man who looked like Keanu Reeves in The Matrix and a woman who looked disconcertingly like the young Meg Ryan who turned around and started to talk to my seat mate in what I assume is some kind of English about some...um, I can't even tell you what it was about, except it was something rad and sexy and very illegal you can do with computers... it was this trio that blew my mind.

They told me, for instance, about how hacking into ATMs is ridiculously easy.

"It's just a phone line," they said, rolling their eyes (well, I don't know about Keanu, as he was wearing dark glasses) and told me how you can buy anyone's social security number for twenty bucks.
"Are you scared yet?"

"Actually, it's intriguing. I'd like to learn how to do that," I said, "but I'm at the level where I still think blogging is pretty cool."
And they gave me a pitying--though benevolent--look.

They seemed to factor Trekkies in as retarded cousins.
Blondie said, "When I saw that the Star Trek con was at the same time as our con, I thought the geek factor in Las Vegas this weekend was going to be through the roof."
(This was the first full sentence she spoke that I understood, so I remember it well.)

My seatmate told me that plenty of hackers are sci-fi fans.
"There's a lot of crossover," he said. "I was laughing at some Klingons, but then I thought, look at cell phones, look at medical tricorders--Star Trek thought of that stuff first."

I don't think these three were Black Hats, but who knows? They could have been FBI agents...or from Mission Impossible. At any rate, perhaps feeling I deserved some help, they told me that the least I should do for protection is buy a Mac.
I felt I had passed some minimum level of intellectual acceptability that I could say I already had one.

"DefCon" stands for "DEFense Readiness CONdition," a U.S. military term that measures the risk of the nation being attacked.
"If you want to see where it started," my seatmate said, "watch the old movie WarGames."

Thank you.
I hear people say that Entertainment doesn't influence Real Life, which is patently rubbish. These computer whizzes claim for their roots this 1983 film starring Matthew Broderick as a guy who almost starts WW III when he mistakenly thinks a government site is a computer game.

And then the shuttle bus arrived at the Northwest Airlines stop and I had to get off, so I can't tell you anymore about how to take over the world.
But I sure knew I was back in it, the world where you can't assume that people will work hard *not* to hurt you.

Btw, you may have seen that this past week, a MA court ordered 3 MIT students not to present their findings at this DefCon on how to hack into the Boston subway system.
This strikes me as rather silly, since if these students can figure it out, the Boston T should be glad they are speaking up publicly...

In fact, the Feds send agents to the DefCon to suss out security weaknesses. Seems to me it's stupid to muzzle the speakers. But then, as you can see in my quotes, I'm a big fan of the First Amendment.
Not necessarily for high moral reasons, either; I also think it's smart policy to hear what everyone's saying.
That's one of the best things about riding the bus. You get to hear the word, which is good, even if the word is scary.


bink said...

ooooo... now that you mentioned DEF CON you are probably popping up on some FBI watch screen...
we all are.

Oh well, big brother is alive and well.

Sal said...

Yikes. I had NO IDEA. And am really rather scared that hackers are ballsy enough to conventionate.

Thank goodness those guys in the cafe didn't wreak havoc on your proffered laptop!!