IDG News Service
July 23, 2006
Tensions ran high on the second day of the Hackers on Planet Earth
(HOPE) conference, as the FBI made a surprise visit to arrest one of
the scheduled panelists.
Steve Rambam, a noted private investigator who runs Pallorium, Inc.,
an online investigative service, was set to lead a panel discussion
titled "Privacy is Dead... Get Over It." According to other members
of the privacy panel, four men in blue coats appeared shortly before
the panel and led Rambam away in handcuffs.
"If you know Steve you know he's flamboyant, and at first I thought,
oh, it's PR, you know," said a visibly distraught Kelly Riddle, one of
the other members of the privacy panel, to the audience. Riddle said
that the FBI had also taken Rambam's presentation -- which included
Rambam's laptop and around 500 pages of documentation that Rambam had
amassed from the Internet to illustrate his talk. Riddle, along with
fellow investigative experts Gerard Keenan and Reginald Montgomery,
led the privacy panel sans Rambam as a question-and-answer session --
but Rambam, whose presentation was slated to form the bulk of the
panel, was sorely missed.
True to the hacker ethos, at least one conference attendee was already
sporting a "Free Steve" T-shirt a few hours later--an echo of the
long-running "Free Kevin" campaign to release famed hacker Kevin
Mitnick was also missing in action on Saturday; the hacker, who was
released in 2002 after serving five years in jail, was set to star in
the hotly anticipated "Hackers in Prison" panel, in which three of the
most notorious formerly imprisoned hackers--Mitnick, Mark "Phiber
Optik" Abene and bernieS--were to appear onstage, together, for the
first time. Mitnick was also scheduled to lead an "Kevin Mitnick
Unplugged" talk afterward.
According to conference organizers, Mitnick was in a hospital in
Colombia, and they did not know when he would return.
Even without Mitnick, the "Hackers in Prison" panel captivated the
crammed hall. BernieS described his disillusionment with the
government following his run-in with the law. "The way we're used to
thinking--about logic, common sense, fairness, justice -- not only do
those things not apply; they're often not even part of the equation in
these cases," he said.
Abene, now a respected consultant on security and systems
administration issues, dispensed thoughtful advice to the crowd. "I am
earning a very decent living, ironically using the same skills I used
to break into computers as a kid," Abene said. He continued, "If
you're really good at getting access to systems, don't be stupid;
don't do things like denial-of-service attacks just because you
can...if you want to prove something to somebody, don't prove that you
can take down their network. Prove that you can do something
constructive with it."
In a late-night question-and-answer session titled "Everything You
Ever Wanted to Know About Spying and Intelligence," Robert Steele, a
former CIA operative and national security expert, dished out scathing
critiques of government policy. A champion of what he calls
"open-source intelligence," Steele maintained that "Ninety percent of
what you need to know about the real world to make intelligence
decisions is not secret...the secrets are simply an add-on."
Attendees swarmed the more upbeat presentations, such as an
entertaining seminar on the science of cooking titled "Food Hacking,"
a graffiti-art talk by the Graffiti Research Lab, and intriguing
panels tracing the strange history of telephone hacking, also called
"phone phreaking." Another welcome inclusion in the program was a
presentation by Limor "Ladyada" Fried, one of the few female speakers
at the conference, who led a consumer electronics hacking how-to with
Make magazine senior editor Philip Torrone.
Expect to see many more "Free Steve" T-shirts in the audience at the
third and final day of HOPE, which features presentations on social
engineering, tracksploits, forensic recovery, and "CryptoPhones"--and,
hopefully, a little less drama.
Story copyright 2006 International Data Group.
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