After all the pre-conference hassles of the venue having to be changed (due to 'someone' putting pressure on the original conference site owners) I arrived on Saturday morning in the blazing sunlight and clean London air (as if). The conference seemed really empty at first with just a few people hanging round the network room trying to get the ISDN connected net up and running (big thanks to those who brought computers and took the time to get the connection ticking over), however as soon as I stuck my head round the door of the conference hall I noticed the place was full of your usual crowd. There were a few suits (looking appropriately uncomfortable), some serious beards, shifty looking youths, and your occasional normal person here and there. There were no obvious undercover coppers, but I guess that's the point.
Conference - Day One
The conference started with entertaining talks from Simon Davies (who gave us many good reasons not to trust others with our privacy) and Alec Muffet (yes, that bloke who wrote Crack), who showed how easy it really is to write site cracking software in shell script.
The next part was a panel session on 'The Media Portrayal of Hackers' that included Emmanuel Goldstein (editor of 2600 Magazine), The Dark Tangent (organiser of DefCon - a US hacker conference), a couple of guys from Wired UK and two newspaper journalists (Michael McCormack and Peter Warren). This was surprisingly interesting with the two newspaper guys getting a good grilling, the two guys from Wired taking the piss and Emmanuel and DT giving us some words of wisdom they obviously learned the hard way. Basically the newspaper guys spun us the usual 'if you break the law you should go to jail' line, and then went on to say 'if you want to do something useful why don't you hack into parliament computers and get MPs expense accounts' - What !?!? I really don't think this guy got it at all. The reason hackers aren't interested in this is because it is very, very boring. We aren't interested in MPs expense accounts, we are interested in technology. Wake up.
The afternoon continued with a talk from Vamprella about Friede and PurpCon and how they managed to get free accomodation with the Federal Prison Service in the US for being 'evil hackers' and abusing their power to rent out a couple of videos for free after they hacked a large video rental system owned by Tower Records. If you want to write to these guys, because they are both in jail for being sick and evil enough to want to learn how to use a database system, contact Vamprella to get their snail mail address or she can pass on e-mails to them. They appreciate mail, because as you can imagine, jail is slightly less fun than your average funeral.
After Vamprella's talk sent shivers up our spine, Bryan Clough's talk on banks and credit fraud made us feel like burning our credit cards. It amazed me how incompetent banks are, although I guess it shouldn't.
Dan O'Brien's talk was one of the highlights of the conference. He was very funny, knew what he was talking about and had some top notch ideas. He also does crazy stuff that demonstrates that you can get the media to believe anything... and I mean anything.
Dr Solomon's free socks were useful, and even his talk was useful as I had been on a long journey and appreciated the chance for a quick nap.
I missed the rest of the conference that day as I was heading off to some well dodgy pub for a party but apparently there was a Tiger Team demonstration, who demonstrated how they would test a sites security by hacking into it, but as I said I sadly missed it.
The Party at a dodgy pub somewhere in London
The first I heard of this party was when I was walking out of the network room and I was told 'Right, get in a taxi to Victoria and me and Emmanual will catch you up'. After I worked out WTF was going on me and the people I was with decided it would be a laugh and we could get the last train back. We were sadly mistaken.
Apparently there was another party going on as well, I hope you guys had as crazy a time as we did ! We ended up following these people ahead of us because they were apparently going to the same place as us. After eventually finding everybody at Victoria we jumped on a train. Until this point the conference had been a little tense, all the hackers were a bit nervous and didn't know who to trust, but after heading off to the party it was obvious that we were all hackers so we could freely talk and introduce ourselves. The party took place in the top floor of a pub which was hired out for the occasion, thanks to Dot Matrix and the other person who organised it and would probably not be pleased if it was mentioned he was there !
First of all it was weird being at a party with Emmanuel Goldstein. In the UK we only tend to read about high profile people like him and it was really cool to discover he is in fact a damn good bloke and was genuinely interested in the UK and what we were getting up to. Everyone I met there, including people I only knew as ASCII and people who I had never met before were totally sound and very cool. Later on Dark Tangent, Vamprella and Tuttle got dragged along by another one of those people who probably wouldn't appreciate being mentioned (still retired eh ?? ;) Like Emmanuel they were equally as cool, and it was a pleasure to meet them, I hope to see you at another UK hack meet guys.
I won't mention any names, because I know there are a good few people who weren't 'officially' there but you know who you are ! Thanks to the people who: brought the cellfones, the laptops, the weed, the first aid, the abseiling gear, the monolog and manual (plus half a BT exchange from the looks of things), the booze, the yanks, the banging techno and jungle and the oh so comfortable jacket I slept on.
As you probably have heard a 100 times, Emmanuel Goldstein had to abseil out of the window because after the landlord had stopped serving (at a reasonable 1am !) he put the burglar alarm on downstairs so the only way for Emmanuel to get to his waiting taxi was for Dodger to get him to abseil (or rappel for you yanky types) out of the window. "Don't worry, you won't fall, these guys could hold a truck if it fell out of the window" - hahahaha, personally I wouldn't have trusted my hamster on that rope, but it was decided the spokesman for most of the worlds hackers would be "fine". Ahem.
The first I knew of the next day was being woken up by some very rough looking hackers saying, "we gotta go and catch a train", most of the party was still uncounscious on the floor but I went along in good faith. It wasn't until we reached the train station that I realised that it was 7am, I had got 2 hours sleep, and that everyone else was sensible enough to stay asleep when we left. Bugger. Anyway, after wandering around London trying to find something vaguely edible we ended up sitting outside a cafe by the conference drinking strong coffee and wandering why everyone was looking as rough as we felt.
The Conference - Day Two
Day two kicked off with Dark Tangent being too hung over to do his talk at the planned time so he swapped with Stephen Kapp and Tim Gaskins (two former ARCV members who got busted for virus writing). I have to say although these guys obviously new their stuff, explaining polymorphic virus assembly code is not what you want to here at that time of the day. So I didn't, I fell asleep.
Dark Tangent's talk was another highlight, giving us some stories from DefCon that made us think we were lucky to survive our UK conference intact. Cracking Bootleg impression by the way.
Robert Schifreen gave a refreshing talk from the man involved in the 1984 Prestel hack. It has been rehashed so many times in so many books it was good to get a first hand account. I missed Peter Cox's talk on the BorderWare Firewall, as I was messing with things in the network room and checking out London's Tower Records. The Anti-Virus workshop was mainly a question and answer session, which was more interesting than previous virus talks, but still less interesting than a hung-over yank talking about 50 year old speed freaked hackers.
I had an excellent time at AAA II. It was the first time I felt part of a community rather than simply an individual with a shared interest. Let's just say it's probably a good thing the conference net was only up for a weekend, otherwise the sysadmin might have got a visit or two from more than one (probably more than a bus full) of very annoyed system administrators.
To anyone and evryone I met there, I hope to see you again and be careful ! I won't go through a list of names of people to say hi to, because I met so many I wouldn't want to leave anyone out and I can only remember half the names of people I met. But needless to say if you were there you made it a damn good weekend. Big, big thanks to Simon for organising the whole thing and to everyone who helped run it and thanks to the guys I got a lift with. This is just my view of AAA II, there is a good chance you went, had a damn good time and don't recognise much of this, but that's the way it goes.