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Computer Hackers Gather in Las Vegas for Annual DEF CON Convention

Aired August 4, 2000 - 2:43 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDRIA HALL, CNN ANCHOR: It hasn't gotten the kind of TV coverage and expert analysis that the big party in Philly got this week, but a convention in Los Vegas does deserve a mention.

Here's CNN technology correspondent Rick Lockridge.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICK LOCKRIDGE, CNN TECHNOLOGY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Where else but Vegas? a city that comes alive at night, and where there's always a whiff of sin in the desert air. Where else but Vegas would 6,000 hackers choose to convene?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a really good social event for people in the field, professional or, you know, underground, whatever you want to consider.

LOCKRIDGE: At the annual DEF CON Convention, hackers burnish their bad-boy image even as they try to shed it. This is the bunch that claims to own the all-time record for alcohol consumption at one of their host hotels.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So if anybody wants to challenge our team, I'm sure we can out-drink them.

LOCKRIDGE: They can probably outshoot most other conventioneers as well, the dozens of heavily armed hackers who show up every year for a Saturday round of target practice in the desert, while still other hackers are standing in line for a lesson in lock-picking. And yet the same crowd listens politely when Assistant U.S. Defense Secretary Arthur Money lectures them about past misdeeds.

ARTHUR MONEY, ASSISTANT DEFENSE SECRETARY: And we've had hackers hack into hospitals and change the polarity of the blood supplies. That might sound like it's fun, giggles, sh*** and giggles, that kind of thing, but it's serious stuff. People now die because they get the wrong blood.

LOCKRIDGE: What does it mean to be a hacker today? Are they to be reviled and feared, or cheered for their considerable knowledge and skill?

ROBERT LUPO, SECURITY CONSULTANT: You write a piece of malicious code, you release it to the world but you do cause -- to cause harm, you're a slime and you're a punk.

LOCKRIDGE: Self-proclaimed ethical hackers like Robert Lupo are openly contemptuous of the so-called "script kiddies" who use widely available scripts, or programs, to create havoc.

LUPO: Like the "IlOVEYOU" virus and all that stuff, that's script kiddie stuff.

LOCKRIDGE: But columnist Richard Thieme argues that society needs hackers and says their most annoying qualities are also sometimes their most useful.

RICHARD THIEME, THIEMEWORKS: The obsessiveness, the daring, the willingness to break boundaries and go through barriers, the willingness to be unconventional, the willingness to never rest until you have found a solution to the puzzle. These are the skills that are going to be needed in the technological society of the 21st century.

LOCKRIDGE: So where does the skill of lock-picking fit in? Maybe it's metaphorical.

(on camera): Hackers may not have any intention of breaking into your house and stealing your silverware, but they want to know how the locks work, and the alarm system, and where the spare key is hidden. And they want you to know that they know.

Rick Lockridge, CNN, Las Vegas, Nevada.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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