There was a computer hacker conference in NYC so I decided with it right there, I just had to go. It was called "The last HOPE" (Hackers on Planet Earth) because they were going to tear down the the hotel Pennsylvania where it had always been held.
So what did I learn? Anything you put on the internet is there forever. (Hello private investigators!. This is why I am glad I never use names or homes.) You can find out anything about anyone anywhere for around $40 (e.g. voting record, web sites visited, sexual orientation, credit card statements, and buying habits) and this is the information that the lawyers picking juries and the government is buying (so much for privacy). Of course I already knew it but anything in the hands of the public can be hacked. (It is really shameful how bad voting machines are though and anyone who uses one to vote might as well not even go to the polling place.) There were talks on what you can get away with for the post office, and how to do social engineering (get information out of people they shouldn't give up or getting them to do stuff) and there seemed to be a lot of talks on hacking the body. (Trying to alter chemical or neural processes.) I think I got the most out of the electronics talks since I am trying to learn more about micro-controllers with the problems I had with my thesis. There was special talks by Adam Savage from Mythbusters, the lead singer of the Dead Kennedys, and the author of the book "Hackers".
The problem I had was that talks went from 10AM to midnight with three tracks and no breaks and there was almost always something I wanted to learn so trying to fit in time for food was a problem. It added to it that all the talks were on the 18th floor of the hotel. At the start one of the speakers had mentioned that it would be nice if someone would hack the elevators to do express trips between the lobby and 18th floor. I think someone tried because about half the elevators didn't work after that and the others had the A/C turned off. They had set up hammocks for people to cash in but I took the train home every night, tried to get what sleep I could before heading back.
So why go if I'm not planning to break laws? Well in this case the gun nuts may be on to something. If this info was outlawed then only the outlaws would have it. I felt it was good to know what and how computers are being used and I am a firm believer in "If I buy it, it is mine to do what I want with it." I also found myself "networking" with the speaker of the "Malicious user interfaces" talk. A lot of the info was directed at catching "script kiddies" (teenagers who use other people's code.) and there were hands on sessions where they had brought in a lot of thrift store toys to take apart and have fun with. There were a lot of public advocacy talks, and tutorials on how to set up your own hacker space, so anyone who thinks it was all anarchists would be wrong.
There was plenty of paranoia to go around (at least one tinfoil hat, a few face masks), but after one of the speakers (who had been arrested at the last conference) explained why it was legal for him to give the info he was giving he stated just for any feds in the audience and he looked at someone in the front row who then shook his head. The guy had a beard and scruffy hair. I would have never guessed him as an FBI agent. The funny thing though was that most of the badges had RFID chips in them and they were tracking everyone everywhere the whole time. They even had a contest to see who could come up with the best visualization of the information. For the most part though there seemed like way to many older people talking about their glory days (with quick interjections of the statute of limitations running out) and how hacking isn't the same these days since the FBI doesn't give them the same priority as they used to. I still don't get bragging about something you don't want to get caught for. Compared to DefCon (the other major hacker conference I have been to) there seemed to be less "quick patch your computer" hack press releases and more "fun things to do with stuff around the house" type talks. Still I now know how to hack London's subway Oyster ticket system (and it looks like someone there did if you read the news.)