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Greetings From HOPE

I am blogging from downtown New York City, where the HOPE Number Six hacker conference is just about to get under way. The "HOPE" part stands for "Hackers on Planet Earth," a biennial conference in the heart of the Big Apple (the conference hotel is just across the street from Madison Square Garden).

When I tell people I'm attending a hacker conference, often the response I get is, "They have conferences for these people?" Certainly, every hacker con includes people who want to take what they've learned and use it for attacking or defrauding others, but in my experience from other cons, most attendees fall into three or four (non-exclusive) camps: security professionals and law enforcement officials who want to keep up with the online bad guys' latest techniques; security researchers who want to share their findings; young people who are curious about technology and security issues; and geeks who want to meet and commingle with other geeks or finally meet face to face with people they have only known online.

Most hacker cons feature fairly technical talks about security flaws and new network attack-and-defense tactics, but a great many of HOPE's tracks appear to grapple with topics that are easily within reach of non-geeks. There also is a strong privacy theme at this con. That's somewhat fitting, considering HOPE was started 12 years ago by "Emmanuel Goldstein," the hacker handle used by Eric Corley. Corley founded 2600 Magazine in 1984. The quarterly magazine features hacking how-to's and first-person letters from hackers that often touch on issues such as challenging authority, data secrecy and government surveillance. Anyone who has read George Orwell's "1984" will immediately recognize Corley's moniker: a key figure in the book who served as the public face of Orwell's "Big Brother."

HOPE Number Six does have its technical tracks, however. Some of the talks I plan to attend address the (in)security of physical devices, such as radio frequency identification (RFID), wireless devices, and the magnetic stripes found on everything from credit cards to hotel room keys (on that note, I somehow lost my room key last night and had to get a new one from a guy at the front desk. I was a tad alarmed when he gave me a new key card after asking me only what the room number was and the name on reservation). There is also a running session on lock picking and a "lockpick village" where curious attendees can learn to fiddle with real tumblers and pins.

One session I'm particularly interested in deals with "coupon hacking." According to the conference write-up, this track "provides an understanding of how you can fight back -- how to understand what you are really seeing when you walk into a supermarket, a 'big box' mass merchant retailer, or even a local mall. It will also address 'coupons,' how you can read the barcodes with the naked eye and decipher them, and how you may use them to get nearly anything for free, or almost free."

Several of the hackers I interviewed last year while reporting a story connecting the compromise of Paris Hilton's cell phone with the attacks on a LexisNexis service that exposed more than 300,000 consumer records routinely created fake coupons to get a variety of free food from various fast-food joints. (Another talk I'm planning to attend seeks to teach hackers how to talk with journalists.)

I'll try to update the blog as often as I can, but I promised myself I'd spend as much time as possible meeting new people and building new sources. Oh, and kudos to the coffee shop in the conference hotel lobby here -- each cup comes with a package of Excedrin headache medicine stuck to the side. A clever promotion, perhaps, but a savvy one to feature at hacker cons, which usually are punctuated each evening with a series of impromptu parties.

By Brian Krebs  |  July 21, 2006; 1:10 PM ET
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Next: Hacking Windows and Hucking Throwies at HOPE


"Anyone who has read George Orwell's "1984" will immediately recognize Corley's moniker: a key figure in the book who served as the public face of Orwell's "Big Brother.""

Not quite: Emmanuel Goldstein was the face of the state's enemy; the Trotsky-like figure who, the state said, had BETRAYED Big Brother and was responsible for all the nation's ills. Pretty cool pseudonym nonetheless.

Posted by: Steve Dolley | July 21, 2006 3:23 PM | Report abuse

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