Hacking encouraged, even prized, at Vegas geek fest

Hackers put in the public eye after high-profile cyber attacks this summer; Convention attendee: "We don't do crime, we're not criminals."

cyber attack 311 R (photo credit: REUTERS)
cyber attack 311 R
(photo credit: REUTERS)
LAS VEGAS - There was a whole lot of hacking going on in Sin City this weekend - and right under the noses of federal agents.
But in a sign of a time when cybersecurity is at the forefront of national security concerns, the feds were not lurking in the shadows to keep a watchful eye. They came as invited guests at the Defcon hacker convention in Las Vegas, which drew more than 10,000 attendees in its 19th year.
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At Defcon, computer wizards test their skills against each other for bragging rights and prizes. No name tags are issued and hackers identify themselves only by one-word handles.
High-profile attacks on government and corporate computer systems disclosed this summer have pushed hackers increasingly into the public eye. Meanwhile, government agencies are wooing hackers to join them in fighting such intrusions.
The Defcon crowd had its fair share of mohawk haircuts that would make a rainbow proud, along with tattoos and piercings but it mostly looked like a campus of geeks let loose in a Las Vegas hotel to do what they consider fun: decipher mind-bending puzzles.
The games illustrate the intellect of the attendees, who see hacking as a skill for problem-solving and do not welcome the notoriety generated by some bad apples breaking laws.
Hackers are "people who like a challenge. We don't do crime, we're not criminals," said "mournewind" from West Virginia. "People have this opinion that hackers do illegal things and that's not really a good thing."
Hacking, for example, can help improve commercial products, he said. "We break an iPhone to make Apple make it better."
Hackers pointed out that criminals exist in all professions and they should not all be painted by that broad brush.
"I think hackers have always gotten a bad name," said "pwrcycle," whose business card labels him an "Ethical Hacker." "Those are the people who think outside the box. The epitome of free thinkers."