Code warriors

Hacker convention debuts in Chico

Chico computer expert William Caput is a “white hat” hacker.

Chico computer expert William Caput is a “white hat” hacker.

Photo by John Domogma

NorCon, a hacker convention, Saturday, March 26, 10 a.m., at Idea Fab Labs.
Cost: $25, at
Idea Fab Labs
603 Orange St.

“I do hacking,” William Caput declared, as he stepped through the doorway and into the darkness of an industrial building on Orange Street.

It was a startling admission on its surface. Hacking, or using computers to access other computers or devices without permission, is usually a crime. But the local computer expert is what’s known as a “white-hat” hacker—a morally “good” hacker—and a member of DC530, the local chapter of DEF CON, the world’s largest hacking and cybersecurity convention (held in Las Vegas every summer).

Caput is hired by companies to find loopholes and security weaknesses in their systems. “I do what is called penetration testing, which in layman’s terms is hacking—[but] ethical hacking.”

Caput and other hackers will be sharing their skills with the public this Saturday, March 26, at NorCon, a hacking and security convention organized by DC530 and the Idea Fab Labs—at the local maker-space’s Orange Street location.

“We have presenters coming from all over,” Caput said. “Seattle, San Francisco, local, a couple from the other side of the country. [They’ll be] giving talks on some of the latest and greatest hacking techniques; things that they have done.”

NorCon’s keynote speaker is Billy Rios, a hacker who was recently featured in a Forbes magazine article detailing his work exposing potentially fatal security flaws in hospitals.

“There’s no security on any of these devices,” Caput said, “[You can] basically [send] a signal to it, telling the insulin pump to keep pumping or telling the EKG to stop. … That was his big exposé, which he did on a couple of hospitals that he assessed.”

Among the other presentations will be talks on coding, InfoSec (information security), the corporate takeover of the hacker community, and how-to-hack gift cards.

The convention will provide an opportunity to learn hacking basics. Caput says he’s has run into several people who claim they can hack, but, in reality, are hacks.

“People want to be a part of the group, so they pretend like they know what they are doing, but a lot of them don’t,” he said. “So this convention is going to have introductory stuff in the beginning.”

Most of the hacking the public hears about is of the ill-intentioned variety—a notion that is reinforced by bad-guy stereotypes in movies—but Caput believes that most hackers are not looking to do harm.

“[Hacking is] a very boring process. It takes a lot of time. But once you get it done, it’s pretty cool. … We’re not listening to techno and we are not going to parties and raves,” he said (as multicolored lights flashed and electronic music loudly played in the Idea Fab Labs). “[We’re] very technical. … Most of us are introverted.”

Caput said that DC530 strongly supports personal privacy and freedom of information, and that the group backs whistleblowers, such as Edward Snowden, the former U.S. government contractor who exposed mass-surveillance programs targeting American email, cellphone and Internet-search data.

“We loosely support Anonymous and their goals,” he added, referring to the well-known, but mysterious hacktivist group. “We believe in freedom of information and the flow of information—a lot of libertarian principles in the group.

“We are trying to build a community here of like-minded people who have an interest in security, privacy, hacking, and [NorCon] will be the start of something bigger,” Caput said. “[We want to] teach them how I do it, how these other people have careers in this field now, and [hopefully] that might spark some interest in a few people and start them on a career path.”