Underground Scene Dying?

A few days ago I was reading an article from the recently released Phrack 64 entitled A brief history of the Underground scene by Duvel. In his article, he suggests that the “Underground scene” is dying, and a large part of that is being contributed to by the commercialization of information security and hacking. He also suggests that what it means to be an elite hacker or security expert now is to come up with something novel like a new way to encode shellcode or deliver an exploit payload, and then go on the “conference circuit”:

Another incredible thing about these security conferences is what I would call the “conference circuit”. Nowadays, if you are a security expert, the trend is to give the same talk at different security conferences around the world. More than 50% of all security experts are doing this. They go in America at BlackHat, Defcon and CanSecWest, after they move in Europe and they finish in Asia or Australia. They can even do BlackHat America, BlackHat Europe and BlackHat Asia! Like Roger Federer or Tiger Woods, they try to do the Grand Slam! So you can find a conference given in 2007 which is more or less the same than one in 2005. Thus it seems we have now a new profession in our wonderful security world: “conferences runner” !

In a sense, I tend to agree with him about speakers and conferences. In fact, I maintain a Google Calendar of just such conferences, and believe me there are a lot of them, and many of them present the same material to different geographic regions. However, I don’t necessarily agree with him that the Underground scene is “dying”… It’s just that most of the people that were originally in it have grown up and this has given birth to a much larger Professional scene that has begun to eclipse the Underground scene. In a sense it’s a matter of perspective, and the perspective has shifted… Most of the hackers that were teenage punks and poor college kids 20 years ago now either work in the industry or still hack solely as a hobby but at least are employed and can afford to travel and attend conferences, and thus, there are a lot more conferences today. I wouldn’t be surprised if some make the majority of their living on the lecture circuit, speaking and providing training at conferences.

But don’t think that there weren’t conferences back then either… DEFCON is currently in it’s 15th year. h0h0c0n was taking place back in the early ’90s and has been dead for years, and Summercon claims to be the oldest hacker conference and has dates on their website for a August 2007 event. And don’t forget about CuervoCon, 927con, and a slew of other, smaller, regional and local-area conferences. Many of the faces are the same, just the conference names have changed and the events have gotten bigger and more frequent as the veterans continue to age and both the Underground and Professional scenes are complimented by a continual stream of new blood, introduced to information security and hacking by the ubiquitous connectivity and information overload of the Information Age.

Those that say that the Underground scene is dying are missing the point. The scene is fine, it’s just in a constant state of change, as are most things in life. It’s okay to be nostalgic for the “good ol’ days” and the way things were, but expecting something like the capabilities and properties of a society to remain static is simply foolish and short sighted. One primary social venue for communication and dissemination of information, the BBS, has all but died out, and nothing on the Internet has ever really taken it’s place. IRC is still used somewhat regularly but even it’s use has waned, and it’s more secure counterpart, silc hasn’t attracted the masses of users that IRC once had. Things change, and in this case the void left by some online venues have been replaced by bigger and more frequent meatspace events. Even more and more groups like 2600, the *Sec groups, and other local area hacker groups have begun having meetings in real life.

I’m a self-proclaimed member of the “Underground scene”, as I’m the Founder of CAU. Hell, the word “Underground” is in our group name. And back in the early and mid-90’s, we were all high-school kids, poking around in computer systems, phone networks, dumpsters, just trying to see what we could learn and sharing information with each other. But today, many of us are employed in security research, network security, incident response, etc. I personally also still hack for fun and create tools with questionable legitimacy, and I also hack for my employer and help advance the state of security and controls. I present at conferences under my handle as well as my real name, depending on the subject matter. I seem to be able to find a way to separate and devote time to the two different “scenes”, and if I can do it, I don’t believe that the Underground scene is in any jeapordy of dying out.

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2 Responses to “Underground Scene Dying?”

  1. doc Says:

    good to see you guys are still around – and no, i don’t agree that the scene is dying either.

  2. I)ruid Says:

    Doc? as in, the Doc that we used to eat at Denny’s with back in Euless???

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