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Hacking for hijinks

So much fun, it should be illegal

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DefCon Blog: Day 1 This is my second Defcon and there are plenty of high jinks but you'd be hard pressed to find any lawlessness. There was the year the ATMs were reprogrammed to display the Defcon logo. And there's always a lot of drinking and stupid network tricks. But nothing that's actually lawless.

I mean, there's nothing actually illegal about reprogramming your car's engine control unit to tell the garage's computerised emissions testing system that your car is well within the limits, is there? A paltry $100 worth of hardware will open your car right up to reprogramming via a USB port on your PC. Give it a power boost, explained Aaron Higbee, by reflashing the car's firmware. ("I recycle, I promise you.") Though, he warned, care is necessary. ("This is your piston. This is your piston on the wrong commit changes.")

It also isn't illegal to test sites for timing variations for application security testing, a technique previously primarily used in cryptanalysis. Think of it like getting your acceptance letter from an American university: thin, you lose; thick, you're in because they send you a load of forms to fill out. Using cross-site scripting, Haroon Meer and Marco Slaviero find valid user IDs by timing how long it takes a page at, say, LinkedIn to load. A page belonging to a valid, logged-in user takes a lot longer to load than the login page.

Even more fun – but still not illegal – is Michael Schrenk's idea of configuring your server to create executable images. That is, programs that, among other possible things, load images. Looks like an image, quacks like an image, but in fact it could be a PHP or Perl script doing…almost anything.

Sometime around early evening (after the obligatory visit to the black T-shirt vendors room), the guy next to me glanced at my press badge – a circuit board designed by electronic engineer and L0pht member Joe Grand with a programmable text display of 95 LEDS controlled by just three pins of the microprocessor and punched out letters saying PRESS – and narrowed his eyes suspiciously. "Who are you working for?" "The Register." Big grin. Two thumbs up.

As fellow Reg hack Dan Goodin has explained, not everyone in the media gets such a warm reception, especially when they fail to register as press. We pass our warmest congratulations to NBC for sending a girl to spy on a hacker conference. Good call, that one.

Still, that's the way to bond a conference: give them a common enemy. Registering as press requires signing an agreement to identify yourself and your publication before asking any questions and to photograph no one without permission. Journalists who don't register as press are, if spotted, rebadged and instructed. Everyone else can be undercover, but not us.®

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