The hacker's worst enemy? Another hacker
Community? What Community!
DNSCON 5 By far the most entertaining - and controversial - speech of this year's DNSCON, the UK hacker conference, was delivered by Scotsman Gus (something of the Irvine Welsh of the UK's h4xOr scene) who lambasted the Hollywood image of hacking.
Gus, who doesn't admit to being a hacker himself ('that would be criminal') but clearly knows a thing or two, fired his opening shot by saying anybody who thought hacking was glamorous or a "way to get chicks" was hopelessly wrong.
Hacking is an intellectually challenging, obsessive activity for solitary geeks - and one thing it should never be is about bonding with other hackers, he told us.
Speaking in a meeting room at the Imperial Hotel, Blackpool, often used in political conferences, Gus's message took a similar form of one of Margaret Thatcher's most famous pronouncements.
She famously said that there was "no such thing as society, just individuals and their families" while Gus declared there should be no such thing as a hacking community, just hackers and the boxes they own.
Hacking is a criminal offence so bragging about it to your friends is simply asking for trouble.
Gus said: "How many of your friends would lie under oath to protect you?"
"If you tell people what you've done- you're stupid. If you say you're a hacker - that's stupid too. You're a criminal - just accept it," he added
In praise of s'kiddies
Point and click tools are dumbing down hacking, so many script kiddies are now attacking sites running code they don't understand. Gus deplores this trend, which he believes is getting worse, but controversially said the s'kiddies have more right to call themselves hackers than people who post code on BugTraq or take part in discussion forums because "they're actually out there hacking".
"Breaking into machines is what makes you a hacker. You could be some Ninja coder but if you're not breaking boxes and some s'kiddie is then he's a hacker and you're not. It's sad but true," he said.
Gus reserves particular scorn for 'hackers' who post to BugTraq because, as he sees it, "what makes a zero day exploit a patch that everyone has applied" are posts to BugTraq.
If only that were so, we thought.
Other hackers are your enemy
According to Gus, the main enemies of hackers are not the media ("stupid, harmless") the government or the police ("who are more interested in kiddy fiddlers").
Other hackers (particularly less experienced hackers) are the real enemy because they will take over machines you may wish to own and root them six ways to Sunday. For that reason educating newbies is also stupid, he opines. It's also dangerous to get too close to people.
"Who will dob (tell tales - ed) you in if you get caught, but other hackers? So why help other people put you in danger?"
What would the nice Mr Le Carre think
Gus went on to talk about what he described as the trade-craft of hacking (a term, incidentally, taken from John Le Carre novels).
First rule, get rid of your friends and cultivate casual acquaintances - who you'll persuade to share useful tools with and con into thinking that you're skilful than you are, the better to earn respect.
Next secure some bastion hosts ('at least eight') to hide your activities online. These will be insecure boxes left open due to "human stupidity" or sys admin laziness, not cracked open through zero day exploits
We'll leave the techniques for breaking into boxes, and covering your tracks, to some hacker version of the Anarchist's Cookbook, and turn our attention to what Gus said about the pleasures of hacking - about which he had plenty to say.
Hacking is better than drugs
"When you break into your first box you get a rush like you've never had. Then the panic sets in and you start to feel a little sick," said Gus, warming to his Trainspotting-like theme.
"Breaking into boxes is like a Martial Art - there's such an adrenaline rush. It's the most exciting thing that you can do with your clothes on, drugs can't touch it - well you'd have too take a load of drugs to touch it."
So that's what people get out of it, in Gus's view. The why hack in the first place?
The main reason people are drawn to hacking is through seeing a movie or, much less frequently, reading a book but this is a terrible reason, Gus says.
"You're a lonely computer geek and you think hacking might get you chicks -that's it's glamorous. This is an awful reason to hack, as is wanting to be 'part of a community'," he said. "People doing it to rebel against school, to 'stick it to the man'" are other bad reasons.
"That it's interesting is a good reason. Getting access is a good reason too, the best reason".
Gus, who we guess is in in his mid-late 30s, ended his speecch saying that when you stop breaking boxes ("which I never actually did") the temptation to go back is so strong that you have to cut yourself off.
Ethics - Isn't that east of London?
Although his speech was well received there were murmurs of discontent later on in the bar. Gus had contradicted himself, they said; he's wrong when he says the guys in the DeCSS aren't hackers, others argued.
They may have had a point, but hey, this is Blackpool - home of the End of the Pier Show and spiritual home of the saucy postcard - and we'd just been treated to the stand up hacker version of the same. ®