[Although this report was based off the work of a couple CNN
 correspondants, CNN interactive staff is *fully* responsible for 
 the mistakes in here. Ms. Caltrider and Ms. Kellan have expressed
 their opinion of the piece and wanted to clarify. The following
 is a letter from Ms. Caltrider explaining why CNN 
 Interactive butchered the piece.]


Hackers: the good, the bad, the ugly
September 3, 1998         
Web posted at: 12:12 p.m.
EDT (1612 GMT)

LAS VEGAS (CNN) -- Computer hackers normally shun the spotlight, but many
of them came out into the open for the recent Defcon convention in Las
Vegas, offering outsiders a rare chance to glimpse their distinctive

While most of the year, hackers connect via modems and e-mail, here they
met face-to-face. Fueled by cigarettes and caffeine, they huddled in
groups around computers, swapped strategies, exchanged tactics and briefed
each other on the latest technological developments.  No business clothes
here. The standard apparel was T-shirts and shorts (and forget about those
name tags saying "Hello, my name is ..."). Others opted for an
in-your-face look: a spiky dog collar here, a punk hairdo there;
miscellaneous pierced noses, tongues and other appendages. 

"The staples, the stitches, they're meant to hurt,"  said one hacker. 

Just as in cyberspace, the hackers are known only by their screennames;
"Reverend Greed," "Despair," or "Opus," to cite a few. 

They start early

Most hackers start practicing their craft by tinkering as kids. 

One hacker said he got his start at age 13, when he broke into a credit
card database. 

"I knew I shouldn't have been doing it. But I figured:  I'm under 15, I
can't get in that much trouble, can I?"  he said. 

The hacker community is divided into two categories. The "white hat
hackers" are those paid by corporations and the federal government to
legally break into systems to find vulnerabilities in computer software
and then fix the flaws. 

The other group, known as "black hat hackers," are malicious: They break
into networks illegally to steal bank account numbers or credit cards in
order to make money. 

[To say that hackers can only fall into two distinct ethical groups such
 as "black hat" or "white hat" with no medium (gray?), shows a serious
 lack of understanding on human nature and ethics, let alone understanding
 of the hacker subculture.] 

Chasing thrills

Many hackers say they do break-ins because it's addictive, a thrill -- and
one feels the "power at the fingertips."  "It's so many things at the same
time: you want the knowledge, you want the power -- you just want to be
there. You don't want to miss out," one of the few women hackers said of
her experience. 

A hacker's idea of having a good time is a race to see which team can be
first to break into a computer network.  The winning team gets a cash

"We own every one of these machines. It's on our network, not the
Internet. So this is completely legal," said one convention-goer. 

From outcasts to experts

Even though they were once considered outcasts, many hackers now hold
critical and high-paying jobs with corporations and governments. 

One group of hackers, called Lopht, even appeared before Congress recently
to explain flaws in computer security. 

"It was actually a pretty monumental step forward to see the Senate and
large legislative groups almost embracing hackers and saying: 'Hey, you
guys have something that you're actually bringing to the table,'" said Dr.
Mudge, a member of the group. 

  Correspondent Ann Kellan contributed to this report.