Hacking into pie

By ABIGAIL CROCKER  |  September 9, 2009

WIRED DC401 goes to work.

John Duksta's latest bit of high-tech wizardry — a machine that would aid in the creation of circuit boards — fell a bit short.

"And it is a fail," he said, examining the finished product last week before a group of local hackers assembled at AS220's performance space on Empire Street.

But no one seemed all that disappointed. There was applause from the group, known as DC401 in a Rhody ode to DEF CON, the largest hacker conference in the country. And there was the promise of pie. The flaky dessert sat on a nearby stage next to balled up extension cord.

Duksta, a computer engineer who helped found DC401 two years ago, told the crowd that he bought the eats from a local hot-air balloonist waging a "Be Fly, Buy a Pie" campaign to raise money for her pilot's license.

"Can we heat it up with the lasers?," asked one techie.

"Yeah, or cut it up with the lasers?," said another.

Typical humor from the male-dominated group, which meets once a month — in the open — to chat about the latest in hackery and share a few school boy jokes.

"Now this is one one-thousandth of an inch," said Duksta, referring to the width of a wire.

"That's what she said," said one of the gathered, followed by snickers from the rest of the gang.

All a prelude to DEF CON, where attendees swap techniques and engage in a bit of one-upsmanship.

"You think these guys on their laptops in the hallway are just checking their e-mail but they're trying to crack the DEF CON system, all to say 'I did it,' " said Dan King, a DC401 regular.

The hackers clearly revel in the dark sheen on their work. They talk of an undercover reporter from Dateline NBC who was kicked out of the national conference in 2007 after she was caught attempting to record hackers' illegal exploits.

And at last month's meeting the group discussed a worldwide campaign, using Twitter, that encouraged attacks on the Iranian government's web site in the wake of election shenanigans there.

"People were using Twitter as a weapon," said Dennis Brown, a security engineer who led the discussion. "Who would have thought 140 characters would have that kind of impact?"

But not all hackers are engaged in illicit activity. In fact, many DC401 members are paid by big corporations to find the weaknesses in computer systems and work to improve their security.

And while many DC401ers have the know-how to steal highly sensitive information like social security and credit card numbers, members say they use their skills exclusively for legal maneuvers.

"We're the night watchmen of the Internet," said King.

  Topics: This Just In , Internet, Science and Technology, Technology,  More more >
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