Language Selection

English French German Italian Portuguese Spanish

Geeks Meet at 'What the Hack' Conference

Filed under
Misc

There are hundreds of tents on the hot and soggy campground, but this isn't your ordinary summertime outing, considering that it includes workshops with such titles as "Politics of Psychedelic Research" or "Fun and Mayhem with RFID."

This is the three-day "What The Hack" convention, a self-styled computer-security conference dealing such issues as digital passports, biometrics and cryptography.

Borrowing heavily from Woodstock and the more professionalized Def Con conference that begins Friday in Las Vegas, the event held every four years in the Netherlands draws an international array of experts and geeks. About 3,000 gathered Thursday for the opening.

Unlike better-known and better-funded industry meetings, "What the Hack" had to fight for its right to exist. The mayor of the southern Dutch town of Boxtel, who oversees the village of Liempde where the convention is held, initially tried to stop the event from pitching its hundreds of tents outside his town - a reluctance stemming from the lingering public image of hackers as asocial, anarchistic and vaguely menacing.

The mayor withdrew his objections after meetings with organizers.

Some of the scheduled lectures and workshops might reinforce the convention's shady reputation, such as the talk about mayhem with RFID, which stands for radio frequency identification tags.

But other seminars appeared wholesome enough, such as the workshop on how to make homes more energy efficient or how activists can lobby governments more effectively.

Even the local police officers assigned to monitor "What the Hack" are being included in the event. Officers are holding daily workshops to educate the public about how they go about securing events like these. Such cooperation with authorities would have raised eyebrows in previous years.

Befitting the age of terrorism, the conference is taking up such security issues as biometrics and new passport technology.

But in line with its anarchic reputation, organizers have made a parody of their own security arrangements, asking attendees to screen their own belongings at an unmanned baggage scanner. Rubber gloves for a "do-it-yourself body cavity search" are provided free of charge.

Overall, the atmosphere resembles that of a music festival, with orderly people waiting in line to buy Jolt colas and vegetarian meals. Children and hammocks are as prevalent as ponytails and laptops, and a curiously popular hangout is the Slacker Salon, a computer-free zone where frenetic Web surfing is taboo.

The relaxed setting is a conscious choice, according to Internet entrepreneur Rop Gonggrijp, who in 1989 helped organize the seminal Galactic Hacker Party, an open-air convention that formed the template for What The Hack.

"The idea was to break the stereotype" of hackers as sun-averse malcontents bent on vandalism, he said. "They've never been part of this community. And now there's fortunately space in the media for more than one kind of hacker."

Rutgers University anthropologist Biella Coleman said events like these serve a critical function for the many communities of people who are acquainted online, but rarely get the chance to meet in the real world.

"Virtuality needs sociality," she said.

Klaartje Bruyn, for example, is a sign-maker by day, but came to What the Hack for social, rather than professional reasons. Electronically arranging meetings with friends both real and virtual from the comfort of her hammock, she lauded how the festival could bring together so many far-flung yet like-minded people.

"It's like a blind date with 3,000 people," she said.

By DOUGLAS HEINGARTNER
Associated Press

More in Tux Machines

Programming

Security News

  • Security advisories for Thursday
  • Please save GMane!
  • The End of Gmane?
    In 2002, I grew annoyed with not finding the obscure technical information I was looking for, so I started Gmane, the mailing list archive. All technical discussion took place on mailing lists those days, and archiving those were, at best, spotty and with horrible web interfaces. The past few weeks, the Gmane machines (and more importantly, the company I work for, who are graciously hosting the servers) have been the target of a number of distributed denial of service attacks. Our upstream have been good about helping us filter out the DDoS traffic, but it’s meant serious downtime where we’ve been completely off the Internet.
  • Pwnie Express makes IoT, Android security arsenal open source
    Pwnie Express has given the keys to software used to secure the Internet of Things (IoT) and Android software to the open-source community. The Internet of Things (IoT), the emergence of devices ranging from lighting to fridges and embedded systems which are connected to the web, has paved an avenue for cyberattackers to exploit.
  • The Software Supply Chain Is Bedeviled by Bad Open-Source Code [Ed: again, trace this back to FUD firms like Sonatype in this case]
    Open-source components play a key role in the software supply chain. By reducing the amount of code that development organizations need to write, open source enables companies to deliver software more efficiently — but not without significant risks, including defective and outdated components and security vulnerabilities.
  • Securing a Virtual World [Ed: paywall, undated (no year but reposted)]
  • Google tells Android's Linux kernel to toughen up and fight off those horrible hacker bullies
    In a blog post, Jeff Vander Stoep of the mobile operating system's security team said that in the next build of the OS, named Nougat, Google is going to be addressing two key areas of the Linux kernel that reside at the heart of most of the world's smartphones: memory protection and reducing areas available for attack by hackers.

today's howtos

Chew on this: Ubuntu Core Linux comes to the uCRobotics Bubblegum-96 board

Linux and other open source software have been in the news quite a bit lately. As more and more people are seeing, closed source is not the only way to make money. A company like Red Hat, for instance, is able to be profitable while focusing its business on open source. Ubuntu is one of the most popular Linux-based operating systems, and it is not hard to see why. Not only is it easy to use and adaptable to much hardware (such as SoC boards), but there is a ton of free support online from the Ubuntu user community too. Today, Canonical announces a special Ubuntu Core image for the uCRobotics Bubblegum-96 board. Read more