While at breakfast, I met David Scott Lewis. David was the model for the character David Lightman in the movie Wargames. He saw my clerical collar and came over to chat with me. He was fun to meet and talk to and he, like a few others, quietly whispered that he was a Christian too. As Courtney said to me, being a Christian at Def Con isn’t all that different than ancient Rome. It’s something that covert and in the whispers more than it is out in the open.
Most of my day was spent at the I Hack Charities booth. We sold tons of T-shirts, books and vinyl stickers. I pretty much have a spiel worked out that I recited more times than I can remember.
Johnny has been a Def Con speaker for many years so a good portion of our booth traffic was people coming to ask why he wasn’t speaking this year and trying to get him to commit to next year’s con. While folks were queueing up to see Johnny, the rest of us hucksters at the booth could give the I Hack Charities pitch and maybe make a sale. It’s a scheme that was generally unplanned, but worked out great!
Ask the EFF
The EFF Panel was extra-exciting. I’m already interested in the EFF’s work with digital rights and public policy so their panel was a natural draw for me. Typically, they describe what they’ve been up to over the past year and then open the panel for questions.
This year they opened with what they’ve been up to “over the past twenty-four hours.” One of the talks, “The Anatomy of a Subway Hack,” had been pulled from the schedule as the presenters (three MIT undergrads) had been given a temporary restraining order from a federal court. Their presentation was initially a class project to duplicate the London, Amsterdam and Rotterdam hacks on the Mifare system. Apparently the Charlie Card (like the Oyster Card) is incredibly insecure and one can store arbitrary amounts of money on the ticket, eliminating the need to ever pay again for the subway.
The presentation was being used (in part) as a pressure tactic. Their hope was to persuade the Mifare vendor to fix the system already in place in Boston. So, they offered to let Mifare be fixed. After it wasn’t fixed, they took the presentation to Def Con. In a ham-fisted CYA move, the MBTA took the students to court under the pretense of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The EFF’s lawyers contend that the Abuse Act itself is horribly abused and misread and cannot be used to punish the students for what they are doing.
On Friday, August 8, the court handed over the restraining order without any time to challenge the order before the conference. So, the EFF folks read their press release and took questions. The general sense was that
- the students were omitting enough details to keep the talk educational and not directly explain an attack,
- this reading Computer Fraud and Abuse Act sets awful precedents for the future,
- that only these three students have been limited from discussing the attack (that is to say, the other 8,000 conference attendees all have the presentation’s slides on their CDs and are not limited from distributing the materials). The slides can be downloaded in PDF format from MIT here.
The EFF assured us that the slot for the Sunday presentation would be filled with “something interesting.”
After this, Peter Eckersley gave a detailed presentation on Switzerland, a new program from the EFF for net neutrality. The software helps site administrators determine whether or not ISPs like Comcast are interfering with their traffic (specifically, traffic over peer-to-peer services like BitTorrent). It’s not yet a program for home users, but there’s a lot of work that’s gone into developing this much-needed tool.
I went to the Q&A session with the EFF after the general panel was over. They took questions from the smaller crowd. Most people were dropping kittens over laptop searches and seizures at the US border. More and more security professionals are encrypting laptops, as they are frequently stolen. If most (or all) laptops were encrypted, few criminals would find it worth their time to steal them. However, this emphasis is coming at the same time the US border patrols will consider encryption a sign of “something to hide.” The folks at the Q&A group were suggesting deliberate provocations for the border patrol. The EFF basically said that if you get arrested doing this, don’t call us–that’s not the kind of case we take on.
Afterward I talk to Eva, one of the EFF lawyers. I’ve been hoping to continue my work on providing theological support for privacy and security concerns. (Somewhere on this blog is my 2003 sermon against the USA PATRIOT Act.) She said that the EFF would be pleased to check over things that I write, not for theological correctness, but to make sure that I was accurately describing, say, network neutrality, fair use, or the FISA laws.
After more time at the booth and quick dinner, I went to the 25th Anniversary showing of WarGames. It’s a movie that probably every person at Def Con has seen at least ten times. I know that I have. Even though it was the same classic movie, it was great to watch it with a large, like-minded group. Everyone cheered for the “nuke Las Vegas” line and clapped for the description of David Lightman as “intelligent but an underachiever,” which fits just about all of us.
Dark Tangent interviewed David Scott Lewis, who consulted MGM on the character of David Lightman. Lewis went on a lot of tangents himself, talking about life in China and generally avoiding talking about the WarGames sequel. The most informative part was on the original material for WarGames. Apparently the first screenplay was called “Genius” and was about a Stephen Hawking-like character trying to pass on his unification theories to a young protege. Of course, the final product wound up far afield from that first try!
Interestingly, David Scott Lewis took an informal poll from the audience and asked, “What other movie does a better job of depicting hackers and hacking?” No one had a good answer. The closest were Sneakers and the Matrix, but they were distant. I’d agree with the rest: there hasn’t been a hacking movie that has surpassed the 1983 classic in capturing that particular mindset.
After all the excitement from the booth, movie and the EFF, I was beat and went straight to bed.