At DefCon IV, the annual hackers' convention in Las Vegas this July, they called him "Se7en." He's twenty-eight years old, an old man of the hacker scene, and he has just "come out" into the public eye after seventeen years underground. It's the second day of DefCon and Se7en has already given more than a dozen interviews to television crews. The attention is wearing him down.
No one can verify he has been a hacker for seventeen years. Trying to check his references of who he knows in the scene ended in hackers that had never heard of him. His claims to have been LOD were verified false. When confronted, his claims to be FRIENDS with LOD proved false. He could not verify his account name on lod.com or anything else.
"Don't call me Se7en," he said as we entered Spago's, an upscale restaurant in Caesar's Palace for dinner. "I don't want to be hassled."
"What should we call you?" I said. "Nine?"
Why did Se7en come out? Why did he leave the hacker underground and tunnel up at the age of twenty-eight into the bright lights of camera crews, the blank pitiless glare of the desert sun?
It was barely a year into his career as a hacker/phreak. This was the quickest way to make a name for himself.
"I'd been playing around with the idea of retiring for a long time. I wanted to come out before I retired. There are a lot of things I want to say, a lot of people I want to know -- I didn't have a game plan, exactly, but I wanted to be above ground for six months before I dropped out. At DefCon I wanted to meet a lot of people whose email addresses I had seen for years."
Friends from Defcon 2, only three years before had never heard of, or seen se7en. Online contacts that had been around for years could not recall him, and had never run into him.
What kinds of speaking are you doing?
"I define the various types and sub-types that the media labels hacker, cracker or phreaker. I describe the types of people in each group, their motivations, how they differ from one another, their ideologies."
Do you discuss technique?
"No, these [his recent talk was for engineers in a space program] are UNIX-heads. They know UNIX is inherently weak. One joke I heard when I came in was, "UNIX and security are an oxymoron." That made me feel good, because I knew I was talking to people who knew that you can't fix security in UNIX. The public is screaming, "Oh my god, hackers are getting in, they need to fix security," but they're clueless! UNIX is insecure, period. End of story.
Yet this comes from someone who claims to be able to secure a unix server from outside attack. One that preaches Unix is drastically more secure than NT. One who later didn't know the "ls" command.
You can usually tell what a hacker's after from what they do when they get in. They start to look for directories like "nuke" and "secret" that might be a problem. But then again it might not. These guys knew the concept of "trophy-grabbing." There might be a kid who downloads the plans for a Stealth fighter to his computer and puts them on a diskette and throws it up on the wall. 'Hey, I got a trophy!' He isn't going to sell it to a spy. He wouldn't know who to sell it to if his life depended on it. To him, it's just, 'Hey, I got a copy of a stealth fighter sitting on my bookshelf!'"
Se7en was a well-known phreaker who knew his way around the telephone system. I asked how he got into phreaking.
When I asked moderately technical questions about general telephony and switches, se7en could not answer any of them. Instead, he diverted the line of discussion to more non-technical matters.