Saturday, 14 July, 2001, 05:29 GMT 06:29 UK
Hacking Las Vegas
By BBC NewsOnline's Kevin Anderson
Normally, hackers and network security administrators usually only meet each other in virtual battle in cyberspace.
But for one week each year, they meet and sometimes mingle at two separate conferences in Las Vegas.
Black Hat Briefings ran for two days beginning on Wednesday at Caesar's Palace, and the largest hacker conference in the US, Def Con, began on Thursday evening.
The overlap is intentional even if the motives of the participants are quite different.
Capture the flag
Jeff Moss, aka The Dark Tangent, started Def Con eight years ago.
As its organisers say, once a year, "they gather in Las Vegas to practice the arcane arts of drinking, socializing, debugging and crowd control".
The conference includes talks, partying, contests to identify federal agents, and a round of "capture the flag," where teams of hackers tried to be the first to crack into a server set up for the occasion.
It has grown into the largest hacker conference in the US and has gained a raucous reputation.
For that reason, Mr Moss added the Black Hat Briefings five years ago because some people in the security community had difficulty convincing their employers to allow them to attend Def Con.
It enjoys corporate sponsors such as PriceWaterhouseCoopers and Microsoft.
But Def Con does not take corporate sponsorship, preferring to foster the underground image.
This year Def Con has taken over the entire Alexis Park Hotel in Las Vegas.
When hackers are not listening to talks about topics ranging from quantum cryptography to hacker doctrine in information warfare, participants can enjoy a wide range of diversions.
If they choose to stay in their room at the Alexis Park, they can watch the Def Con Movie Channel which will be showing a wide range of hacker movies.
Organisers say, "See such stinkers as The Net, and such classics as Colossus: The Forbin Project."
Or possibly seeking something more social, conferees can attend the TCP/IP Drinking Game.
The premise is that the audience asks a panel of hackers and 'security types' questions.
Organisers say: "if no one can answer the question, they drink. You see how this can get interesting quickly?"
Spot the Fed
But one of the favourite events at the conference is the Spot the Fed contest.
Organisers explain the rules like this.
"If you see some shady MIB (Men in Black) earphone penny loafer sunglass wearing Clint Eastwood to live and die in LA type lurking about, point him out," they say.
Once enough people think they have spotted a fed, the games participants take a vote. If enough people think the person truly is a federal agent, the person who spotted the fed, get a "I spotted the fed!" shirt, and the person identified as a fed gets an "I am the fed!" shirt.
Organisers say that it is all in good fun, and want agents to know, "if you survive unmolested and undetected, but would still secretly like an "I am the fed!" shirt to wear around the office or when booting in doors, please contact me when no one is looking and I will take your order(s)."