Darknets, wargames and Raspberry Pi at first-ever Balkan hacker conference

Taking NATO down for a week in 1999 put Serbian hackers on the map. This weekend the Balkan Computer Congress puts Balkan hackers firmly on the global stage at the first-ever Balkan hacker conference.
Written by Violet Blue, Contributor

Because hackers are under such scrutiny and debate right now, and because hackers have literally changed the world we live in - as well as royally pissed off so many people - we know that this is leading somewhere.


Right now, it has led me to Serbia for BalCCon 2013: First Contact (organized by LUGoNS/Linux Users of Novi Sad).

It is not only the first official, large-scale hacker conference in Serbia, it is the first for the entire Balkan region.

Something is happening here in Novi Sad.

Old world, meet new world.

The same year America's Defcon turned 21 and Germany's CCC turns 30 this December, Serbia - long active in global hacking, with its own fierce hacking groups - formally enters the ring this weekend with the official Balkan Computer Congress.

According to organizers looking at its preliminary figures, BalCCon attendance is predicted to be at least 400 hackers.

Soon we'll find out just how many hackers, security professionals, and most likely some version of law enforcement in plainclothes will attend the history-making conference.

Friday morning, two days begin of workshops and lectures from hackers who have traveled to present at BalCCon from around the world.

The sessions will run alongside the same kind of hacker fare you'd find at other global hackercons, such as crypto puzzles and simulated wargames - plus a few surprises organizers have hinted at.

BalCCon's co-organizer Jelena Georgijevic told me,

Due to the wars, crisis and different economic and political influences, there hasn't been initiative strong enough to push this kind of event forward.

Our Linux User Group - LUGoNS - was a place that was one of the first following trends and creating events; this led to BalCCon. After some stagnation we have gathered power to go for it.

The wars and other influences are important in understanding why this hacker conference is happening now, and not sooner, and how Ms. Georgijevic brings this all into focus when she explains,

We have gone back and forth through the wars and crisis. This [BalCCon] is one of the healing processes that will help reunite our region in one industry.

We want BalCCon to be a catalyst for numerous other projects, to inspire people to hack more, to discover more, and to be more curious.

We want this conference to be the place of gathering for everyone from this region, and to kind of unite all dissolved parts.

BalCCon takes place in Novi Sad, Serbia - and the significance of this location deserves to be understood.

Most Serbians still don't understand why NATO cluster bombed Novi Sad into shards in 1999 - in what many globally still believe was itself an act of warcrime - when NATO was supposed to be aiming its might at stopping the horrors stemming from Kosovo.

Serbian hackers hit back at NATO during the 1999 bombing, knocking NATO's servers offline for a week.

Because the US spearheaded the NATO attacks, pro-Serbian hackers popped the US Navy's servers to delete files and leave defacements whose primary messages were to stop the bombing.

Novi Sad bore the brunt of NATO's 1999 bombings, which lasted for an unreleting three months. A city divided by the river Danube was left without its only three bridges, choking in an environmental disaster.

Its population hammered by months of trauma and fear now mourned many dead - this was atop the other massacres NATO said it was stopping (not altogether long after the unbelievably horrifying WWII Novi Sad massacres), and with depleted uranium left scattered behind from the bombs.

It took two years for the UK, who participated in the bombing, to help restore clean water to part of the region.

Most of the population of Novi Sad was left jobless by NATO's near-daily 1999 bombings. The economic infrastructure was demolished, and Serbia is still self-described as working to undo the institutional corruption it inherited, namely in "dubious privatizations which are loosely linked to the largest centers of power."

After the political events of 1999 citizens were left unable to travel, making for a few generations of kids who grew up making their own computers and escaping in the way of the hacker: via code and the Internet.

I'm staying a few blocks from the Danube; the bridges were not restored until 2005 - long after Defcon became jaded on cracking Macs.

The hackers here - Srpski hakeri - never had Macs to crack.

BalCCon's Ms. Georgijevic explains,

BalCCon is not only in a different geographic location than other hacker conferences; it is the whole mentality of the people.

Up to the mid-2000's, you would have to know every part of the hardware if you were buying a PC (this goes for everyone: even my cousins were asking me for configuration and how to build one by themselves) - like does this motherboard go with that memory and graphic card?

You would have to know these things and more since there were no out-of-the-box solutions, and they were too expensive for us. There also were a lot of bans on imports. So you would buy parts for a computer just as you would go and get the ingredients on a shopping list to cook a meal.

Due to all of this, we have a natural hacking culture - of doing things from scratch, figuring out how to make anything from the ground up. You will see a lot of people here that know how it is to hack on an everyday basis.

Despite popular negative perceptions, most people can agree that hackers tend to make big personal sacrifices for what they believe is just, for the people they care about, as well as for the spirit of free and open information.

What's happening in Novi Sad this weekend is no exception. So if you guessed that BalCCon is a team effort with lots of excited volunteers, and is funded precariously out of pocket, you're right.

BalCCon First Contact Poster

BalCCon's intent also resonates with those of us aghast at the never-ending surveillance revelations coming out of the US and UK - especially when Ms. Georgijevic adds, "Citizens of our country are monitored every day. There is a little or no protection against this. We hope that BalCCon will bring some light to this as well."

Among the many sessions for attendees include a talk about living outside the law, hacking on Raspberry Pi's, Travis Goodspeed presenting Portscanning Low Earth Orbit, a session on how to make a Balkan Darknet, a talk that includes firmware and hardware attacks, hands-on physical pentesting, the formal debut of locksport, and much, much more.

I'll admit I'm looking forward to meeting the full LUGoNS crew - at their Rakija workshop.

The hackers are arriving here throughout the night and hotels in Novi Sad are full. BalCCon's Founder Milos Krasojevic tells ZDNet that BalCCon plans to record "all the major sessions" so anyone who can't make it will be able to see some of the presentations online after the conference.

BalCCon is September 6th to 7th, 2013 at Master Centar, Hajduk Veljkova 11, 21000 Novi Sad, Serbia.

Doors open at 9am; tickets can be bought on-site (capacity is limited) and ticket packages range from €20-100.

Follow BalCCon on Twitter, and the event hashtag #BalCCon.

ZDNet will be reporting from BalCCon in Novi Sad, Serbia. We wish you were here. Stay tuned for galleries, and much more.

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