RSA 2008: The Echo Boom Hackers

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Last week I spoke at RSA 2008 on the subject of "Echo Boom Hackers". Long story short, "Echo Boom" kids are supposed to be that generation which has never been without an online world to live and play in, and so their take on the nature of privacy, anonymity and that interface between your public and private worlds don't quite work in the same way as (say) mine does. Yes, I grew up without the Internet. Sue me already. We also talked about how researchers and law enforcement could use their different attitude to our advantage when attempting to shut them down.

Inbetween emergency landings, awards ceremonies and book signings to attend I got the feeling this years RSA wasn't quite as interesting as last years event. The common complaints seemed to be "Too many sessions", "not enough interesting booths" and a general sense of "can't be bothered".

, originally uploaded by Paperghost.

I agree. I don't recall anywhere near the same amount of talks going on last year, and the inevitable result is half empty rooms and speakers wondering where all the people went. I only go to these events to speak or listen to others, and the majority of the talks I went to all suffered from a distinct lack of attendance. I was lucky - speaking with Robert Vamosi of CNet, we were doing our presentation in the Keynote Room 103 (complete with its own videocameras and producer), and so even though we talked on the last day, we still pulled in a good hundred or so people which is pretty decent. I'd have liked more, but then I'm just greedy.

, originally uploaded by Paperghost.

Anyway, if any organisers of RSA just happen to be passing by - because I'm sure they stop by here all the time - then please, REDUCE THE AMOUNT OF SESSIONS. I was informed while there that everyone would have access to the talks they missed, yet I've returned home to see that you now apparently have to have a full session pass to see the recorded highlights / listen to audio / whatever. This is a really bad idea, and simply makes a niche event even less accessible to those that can't attend (and don't want to pay the insane prices to do so).

Rant over.

Robert and I were in town to talk about a subject that probably doesn't get brought up much at RSA (in fact, it doesn't seem to pop up much anywhere) - the new breed of wannabe hackers, the lengths they go to with regards fitting in and the dangers and problems facing both their victims and themselves, and how those dangers can quickly (and irreversibly) bleed into the real world. That all sounds faintly scary, so here's Robert and I looking all smiley at the FaceTime booth.

, originally uploaded by Paperghost.

Phew. Here's a couple of photographs from the talk itself:

, originally uploaded by Paperghost.

, originally uploaded by Paperghost.

, originally uploaded by Paperghost.

The talk was divided into three main sections - a general overview of what I've seen out there over the last 12 months+, tips and tricks for catching hackers on social networking sites, Youtube and various other places using everything from Skype to advertising networks, and (finally) the dangers that these activities produce day in and day out. It was a tricky subject to approach - the idea was to ramp up the punch of the presentation towards the end, but too general an introduction might have resulted in people getting bored and walking out. There wasn't really any way round this, but thankfully people stuck around (I think one guy left halfway through, but that was because his phone was ringing so we'll let him off the hook).

Of course, there was also the added danger that people would be expecting a high level technical presentation - this is RSA, after all - and be baffled at the sight of 70 minutes of anecdotes.

Still, I love a challenge and the presentation seemed to go down really well with the audience. There's been a fair amount of coverage already (links at the end), and a number of people asked me to get involved with a few initiatives aimed at both keeping kids safe online and also trying to steer them away from hacking and cracking which was pretty interesting. I'm just glad people found us at all, because I'm sure we were originally scheduled for the "Hackers & Threats" Track but somehow ended up on the "Industry Experts" sessions. Not really helpful when you're running round half an hour before your presentation starts wondering why nobody knows where your room is!

Just like last year, you can click here and check out some 300+ pictures from my trip, starting with the emergency landing my plane made and finishing off with - er - more aeroplane woes. So many people had issues with aircraft at this conference, maybe that could be next years theme.

As for additional reading, well, there's a fair amount of it and will probably give you a better overview of what went on than I ever could. Eventually RSA are supposedly going to stream the talk we gave in full, but that might take a week or two - as soon as it's online, I'll post a link to it.

Further Reading:

Robert Vamosi: Meet the Echo Boom Hackers
Robert Vamosi: Echo Boom Hackers - A Dangerous Game
Robert Vamosi: Echo Boom Hackers - Shame

Matt Hines: Taking Down Teen Hackers

Tech Talk Radio: RSA 2008. (The Podcast itself is floating round on the main site somewhere, but I couldn't actually find it. If anyone locates it, feel free to pass me the link!)

Consumer Reports: Kids Turned Cybercriminals

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This page contains a single entry by Christopher Boyd published on April 14, 2008 4:52 PM.

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