DEF CON, an annual strange brew of security experts, law enforcement officials, hackers and, yes -- "The Media" -- descends upon Las Vegas this Friday. The event will be televised. It will also be streamed on the Web, reported upon for newspapers and Web sites, and written about in magazines for months to come.
And all that attention has some media analysts questioning whether the media's coverage of hacking and cyber vandalism promotes more of the same. "Every step in the evolution of hackers, the media has gotten the story wrong," said Jon Katz, a media critic with Slashdot.org and Wired Magazine. "When the media uses the term 'hacker,' they are really talking about vandals. It doesn't help that the media falls into the trap every time."
One indication of the media's effect on hacking: Such unwelcome Web intrusions, at least anecdotally, are on the rise. Boston-area security consultant B. K. DeLong says there have been more than 1,300 incidences of Web-page defacements so far this year (he only began tracking the number of hacks late last year).
They're certainly gaining in prominence: Several Web site hacks, including the WhiteHouse.gov, Senate.gov and Army.mil, were covered extensively by major media such as CNN and the New York Times, as well as by the electronic media, including ZDNet subsidiary ZDNN. Whether you call them cyber vandals or hackers, they have the run of the Web, said DeLong.
"I personally think that 75 to 85 percent of sites are hackable," he said. DeLong believes that if hackers leave these sites alone, it stems more from fear of potential legal repercussions than problems breaking in.
One old-school hacker agrees that media publicity and the notoriety it guarantees keeps the hacks coming. Like Katz, he doesn't view page defacements as hacks. "Web-page defacing is not hacking," said Space Rogue, a long-time hacker.
Hackers have traditionally plied their trade in part to gain knowledge about computer systems. In a Web page defacement, "there is really little knowledge gained [about the network], and no other motives besides fame."
Space Rogue works with the security group L0pht Heavy Industries and runs the Hacker News Network, an underground information site.
Part 2 to follow