For Hackers, Anonymity Was Once Critical. That’s Changing From alphabanklog
For Hackers Anonymity
By Stephen Hiltner
Ask any hacker who’s been around long enough, and there’s a good chance you’ll hear an archetypal story, tinged with regret, about the first time his or her real identity was publicly disclosed.
After enjoying years of online anonymity,
Dead Addict’s version of the story involves an employer who pushed him to apply for a patent — for which he was required to provide his full legal name. “The people who later doxxed me,” he said, using a term for publishing private information about someone, usually with malicious intent, “pointed to that patent.”
I met Grifter, whose real name is Neil Wyler; Dead Addict, who, citing privacy concerns, spoke with me on the condition that I not share his real name; Nico Sell, which, while undeniably the name she uses publicly, may or may not be her legal name; and dozens of other self-described hackers in August at DEFCON, an annual hacking convention — one of the world’s largest — held in Las Vegas.
Dead Addict. As a rule, he said, hackers have always been especially attuned to privacy issues.
“This is a profession for a lot of people now,” she added. “And you can’t fill out a W-9 with your hacker handle.”
DEFCON has grown exponentially
It’s difficult to characterize the conference without being reductive.
The ethos of DEFCON
As with many of his early online friends, Moss’ foray into aliases was directly tied to his interest in hacking and phone phreaking (the manipulation of telecommunications systems) — “stuff that wasn’t really legal,” he said. Aliases provided cover for such activity. And every once in a while, he explained — if a friend let slip your name, or if you outgrew a juvenile, silly alias — you’d have to burn your identity and come up with a new name.
“In my case, I had a couple previous identities,” he said, “but when I changed to The Dark Tangent, I was making a clear break from my past. I’d learned how to manage identities; I’d learned how the scene worked.”
He also remembers when everything changed.
“My address book doubled in size,” he said with a laugh.
“The thing I worry about today,” he added, taking a more serious tone, “is that people don’t get do-overs.” Young people now have to contend with the real-name policy on Facebook, he said, along with the ever-hovering threats of facial-recognition software and aggregated data. “How are you going to learn to navigate in this world if you never get to make a mistake — and if every mistake you do make follows you forever?”
Philippe Harewood, 30, represents a relatively new class of hackers. He is ranked second on Facebook’s public list of individuals who have responsibly disclosed security vulnerabilities for the site in 2018. And while he maintains an alias on Twitter (phwd), a vast majority of his hacking work is done under his real name — which is publicized on and by Facebook. He also maintains a blog (again, under his real name) where he analyzes and discusses his exploits.
“In a way,” he said, “it just helps me filter my communications.”
In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal,
Like Harewood, 11-year-old Emmett Brewer, who garnered national media attention at this year’s DEFCON by hacking
“I came up with it a couple years ago, when I first got included in a news article,” he said. “I think an alias
“P0wnyb0y is shorter and catchier than my name,
Emmett said his involvement with DEFCON — he has attended for several years, accompanied by his father — has left him skeptical
(About his hacking the simulated election results: “The goal was to modify with the candidates’ votes — to delete them or add new ones,” he said. “I changed everyone else’s votes to zero, added my name, then gave myself billions of votes.”)
That’s not to say, though, that the younger generations of hackers are all comfortable operating so openly. Sell’s daughter, who spoke with me on the condition that I refer to her by her hacking handle, CyFi, was especially guarded about her identity.
As with Emmett, CyFi is wary of her generation’s penchant for oversharing online. then “My friends have definitely been frustrated with my lack of social media,” she said. “But the less data there is about you out in the world, the less people can try to mess with you.”
Linton Wells II. After the Edward
One of the most intriguing aspects of DEFCON is the relationship between the hacker community and the attendees from the federal government, the complexities of which have ebbed and flowed over time. also For many years, the tension resulted in a cat-and-mouse game called “Spot the Fed.”
“In the early days, if a fed got spotted, it was pretty consequential,” Moss said. “Later on, they were outing each other,” he said with a laugh — because they wanted the T-shirt granted to both the fed and the person who outed them.
Wells said governmental officials who attend DEFCON fall into one of three categories. “One was the people who openly
“There were others who wouldn’t deny
The relationship hasn’t always been contentious, he added, noting that, in 2012, Keith Alexander, who was then director of the
Joe Grand, who for many years operated under his alias, Kingpin, understands the complexities of the relationship as well as
“Due to the sensitivity of the work done at the L0pht,
“It probably helped their agenda — by having these kids show up with fake names,” said Grand, who sat for an interview at DEFCON. “It probably made it that much more intriguing.”
As with many longtime hackers, Grand — who became widely known after appearing on a Discovery Channel show called “Prototype This!” — has grown more comfortable operating in the open. But he still appreciates the value of anonymity. “Hiding behind a fake name doesn’t mean you’re doing something malicious, and it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person,” he said. “It means you’re trying to protect your privacy.”
“And, in this day and age, you need to,” he added, “because everywhere you look, your privacy is being stripped away.”
“More and more people who started hacking in the ’90s are now becoming icons and thought leaders — and, most
To help guide younger generations, elder hackers can often still use nicknames, she added. “But sometimes it makes it more powerful when they can speak up in their own voices.”