Chaos Computer Club and the Rise of Hacker Culture

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Malcolm van Delst

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January 2, 2012

Chaos Computer Club and the Rise of Hacker Culture

CCC logo[Left: logo of the Chaos Computer Club]

The German hacker club, Chaos Computer Club has recently been in the news for their annual end of the year Chaos Communication Congress at which well-known writer and BoingBoing editor, Cory Doctorow spoke on “the coming war on general computation.” In this post, I will introduce you to the club, their events, and other hacker organizations, events and affiliates worldwide. I will do this via a sort of travellog of the club's Chaos Communication Camp, which I had the good luck to attend this past August.

Hackers - What? Chaos – What?

Chaos Computer Club

“The (Chaos Computer Club) was founded in Berlin on September 12, 1981 at the Kommune 1's table in the rooms of the newspaper Die Tageszeitung by Wau Holland and others in anticipation of the prominent role that information technology would play in the way people live and communicate.

The CCC became world famous when they drew public attention to the security flaws of the German Bildschirmtext computer network by causing it to debit a bank in Hamburg DM 134,000 in favor of the club. The money was returned the next day in front of the press.”

- Wikipedia.org

The club has made headlines since, regularly exposing security flaws in government and corporate software as well as staging large scale techno-art installations such as their 2001 twentieth birthday celebration, where they turned a Berlin building into a giant mobile phone controlled game of pong. More recently, they analyzed the Bundestrojaner (“Trojan horse”) software used by German police. They showed, not only that the trojan - which allowed police to control a target computer remotely, capture screenshots and run external code - was unconstitutional, but that it was so badly implemented, it opened it's targets to third party attack as it routed their essentially, unencrypted data, out of Germany's jurisdiction.

The club organizes many educational and social events:

  • Chaos Communication Congress is the club's annual conference that takes place Dec. 27 to 30, attracting over 4000 people and big name speakers and presenters.
  • Chaos Communication Camp, the outdoor event on which this post is centred, takes place at four year intervals a couple hours from Berlin.
  • EasterHegg takes place during Easter and is more workshop-oriented than conference.
  • SIGINT, “Signal Interrupt,” is another yearly conference in Cologne. *may not be running anymore.

Here is the club's official web site. Skip to the end of this post for a list of hacker events worldwide.

CCC Roket badgeChaos Communication Camp

[Left: Lanyard/badge for CCCamp 2011, before programming.]

The club puts on an outdoor hacker camp every four years. 2011's sold out version, from August 10th to the 14th, inclusive, attracted 3500 people to Luftfahrtmuseum, in Finowfurt, Germany. Luftfahrtmuseum is an old airstrip/current outdoor museum, a few hours from Berlin. Here is an aerial shot of the museum, which shows two of the bunkers and a couple of the old East German war planes that, along with tanks and other military vehicles, were scattered throughout the site. Power and internet were available throughout camp: there were strips you could plug into to bring both power and ethernet into your tent from any given location. Here's an aerial shot of the camp, August 13th, 2011.

The camp's lectures – most in English – were held in the two bunkers pictured in the aerial shot. The lectures were divided into five tracks: Community, Culture, Hacker Space Program, Hacking, Science and Society. Interested in learning about rocket propulsion, hacking credit cards, phones or DNA? How about online poker bots, fitness (hacking your body) or how to use scientific method to solve irksome day to day problems, like who's stealing your milk from the office fridge? How about “Financing the Revolution” or making a fair trade cell phone? CCCamp had you covered! The lectures started at noon everyday and ran til midnight, which seemed entirely appropriate for the geeky, counter-culture crowd.

Interestingly, Wikileaks defector, Daniel Domscheit-Berg, aka “Daniel Schmidt,” planned to officially launch his rival OpenLeaks project at the camp. He and his team set up a temporary server on the campgrounds, and invited camp attendees to test its security. The Chaos Computer Club, however, revoked his membership a few days after camp, saying they didn't trust him and that he was trying to use the club's name to promote OpenLeaks. The club has revoked a membership only once before in its 30 year history, and that revocation was for a neo-Nazi infiltrator. Read more here.

Along with the colourful, security-heavy lectures, there were workshops and ongoing projects. Our group's “Neighbor Camp” was also the Food Hacking Base. Workshops like sushi making and brewing pro-biotic beverages took place. Mike and I recreate "American Gothic" with appliances yet to be setupFor proper food hacking, we bought and set up – outdoors - a full-size stove, fridge and double kitchen sinks. Later, we served a meal for the whole camp, complete with Czechoslovakian wine. My partner's regional Canadian snacks: dill pickle chips, coffee crisp chocolate bars and Oreas with chocolate filling, went over well while the hungry crowd waited for the main course.

[Above right: CCC Gothic: Mike Cantelon and I, posing with our camp's kitchen appliances prior to set up.]

There were also many food vendors throughout camp. I made sure to sample as many as I could, quickly settling on the wood oven pizza stand, which was conveniently located next to the funky bar that Club Matesold Club-Mate and Flora-Power, drinks of choice for European hackers. I expect we'll see these yerba-mate-based, carbonated sodas across North America soon. The 2600 store introduced them to North America at the last Hackers on Planet Earth conference in New York.

Aside from lectures and workshops, there were several hacking tents where you could work on your own projects, participate in existing ones, or buy and assemble hardware kits, using supplied tools. The BlinkenArea tent, for example, offered these kits and tools, for making a variety of tiny, light up signs.Mitch Altman at CCCamp 2011 The Hardware Hacking tent was home to many workshops. I bought and soldered together my own TV-B-Gone, with instruction from the inventor himself, Mitch Altman, at the Arduino for Total Newbies workshop. Mitch, highly recognizable for his multi-coloured hair, is an engaging, enthusiastic presenter. He's also co-founder of San Francisco's “anarchistic educational” Noisebridge hackspace (with Jacob Appelbaum, “The American Face of Wikileaks”, no less).

[Right: TV-B-Gone inventor, Mitch Altman]

Museum plane at nightAt night, the camp transformed into a rave, for lack of a better word. Techno music pounded into the early morn, coloured lights lit up trees and sometimes, dry ice fogged German military planes [right].

Soviet UnterzögersdorfOne of the groups sharing our camp was monochrom and their hackerbus. This “philosophy-tech-art” collective is best known for their hilarious, low-budget, computer-based game, Soviet Unterzögersdorf. The game, set in the fictitious country of Soviet Unterzogersdorf, stars a cutout of monochrom actor, writer and director, Johannes Grenzfurthner, that moves jerkily through the countryside having Communist-themed, absurdist conversations with other of the country's citizens. Johannes, in character as "Chrusov," from the game, was one of the highlights at an American hacker camp in 2009, Toorcamp. Currently, monochrom is working on a feature film version of this game. The hackerbus is a documentary van set to tour across European hackspaces in 2012.

CCC spaceship/mascot Speaking of art, it was pretty much everywhere at Chaos Communication Camp: from the programmable badge to the mascot-space-ship, lights, robots, sculptures, installations, and hacker-space logos. Have a look.

Hackers on a Plane

My partner and I travelled to CCCamp via Hackers on a Plane, aka, HoaP. Hackers on a Plane is a sort of hacker travel agency. Or maybe more of a tour operation - like a cruise, only instead of Alaska or the Caribbean, the destination is Chaos Communication Camp, Chaos Communication Congress or Tokyo's Akihabara (electronics) district.

Hackers on a Plane CCCamp 2011 badge[Left: HoaP's CCCamp 2011 badge]

Based in the States, HoaP provides an ideal way to experience events like CCCamp. For one, attendees are required to bring their own tents, food and sleeping accommodations. Travelling with HoaP, these things are provided, along with flights leaving from several American cities, camp admission fees, a 3 country Euro-rail pass for the week after camp, and, in the case of CCCamp 2011, a flight from Strasberg to camp on this mid-century Russian forestry/agriculture plane. Two other bonuses of travelling with HoaP were the meeting point of Berlin's Liquidrom Spa, (pics) and the first night in Germany, before heading to camp, in Strausberg's pink, non-ironic unicorn-themed “castle” hotel, the Lakeside (pics).

The Liquidrom's main feature was a round, salted, heated pool in a darkened dome, with underwater speakers and coloured lights. Because of the salt content, and aided by floatation noodles, a person could literally fall asleep floating in the pool while listening to soft music. At least, that's what I did.

The Lakeside – if it isn't an actual old castle, is a damn good replica! Our keys were big brass things with massive dongles upon which the room numbers were written. I didn't get to any of the hotel's spa areas but heard glowing reports about the rainforest soundtrack piped into the sauna, and the massive pool.

Mike and Bernie S. contemplate attire for CCCamp[Left: Mike and Bernie S get sidetracked while shopping for sheets]

Camp accommodations were a delightful counterpoint to Liquidrom and Lakeside. HoaPers were housed in communal army tents, with well-used cots and a diverse assortment of blankets and pillows. One of our travelling companions, the famed Bernie S of 2600 magazine's Off the Hook radio program, suggested we get sheets before heading to camp – a wise suggestion! Because my partner and I were a couple we got a private tent and sleeping bags instead of the barracks. While our sheets weren't necessary to shield us from the cots, they helped a bit against the cold ground, and, until the huge blue tarp was thrown over the three or four tents in our vicinity, the damp cold that came with the first night of rain. Once the tarp was in place, rain and cold were much less of a problem, though I did purchase a FoeBud sweatshirt to aid in the vanquishing.

All in all, I heartily recommend HoaP for any of your hacker-based travelling needs!

C-base and other hackspaces

Entrance to c-base, hackerspace extra-ordinaire[Above left: Mike Cantelon at entrance to hackerspace extra-ordinaire, c-base]

After camp, we made our way back to Berlin where we checked out c-base ( English Wikipedia article here.) C-base is a 300+ member hackspace that, having been around for over 15 years, is one of the world's first. C-base's physical space is massive, encompassing many different work areas, a bar and a backyard on the Spree River, all decorated to look like a space station. Check it out! (pics)

Ubuntu-Germany logo gracing wall at c-base[Left: Ubuntu-Germany logo gracing wall at c-base]

 A hackspace is a club for computer, electronics and maker enthusiasts. They differ greatly from location to location and are largely dictated by the interests of the members. Vancouver, Canada's VHS, for example, includes craft nights along with El-wire, electronics kit nights and the ever popular Super Happy Hack House nights.

Http://hackerspaces.org is a wiki for hackerspaces around the world. Check out their list of hackspaces, including many in Canada and the US.

Hacker Conferences Around the World

HOPE.net

Holland also has a hacker camp every four years. Their most recent camp was 2009's Hacking at Random . The new organizing body for the Dutch camps is Hxx (site is in Dutch, unfortunately).

[Right: HOPE.net]

 In the States, the Hackers on Planet Earth conference, organized by the infamous 2600, The Hacker Quarterly magazine, happens biennially in New York. The next HOPE runs July 13-15, 2012. Watch http://hopenumbernine.net/ for tickets.

Another American hacker conference is Toorcamp, next up, Aug. 8 -12, 2012. The 2009 version of Toorcamp took place in a decommissioned missile silo. The folks who organize Toorcamp, also organize Toorcon Seattle, Toorcon San Diego and the upcoming End of the World Toor to Antartica, coming this December, 2012. Find out about all Toorcon conferences here. Las Vegas's DEF CON is one of the world's largest and best known computer security conferences.

For a comprehensive list of computer security and hacker conferences see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computer_security_conference.

CCCamp 2011 pics: http://www.flickr.com/photos/malcolm8/sets/72157628690786623

CCCamp website: http://events.ccc.de/camp/2011/

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Ethical hacking is a very tricky topic and as a person who uses computer on a dialy bases...I've been very interested in this topic.
Thanks for sharing. I love ethical hacking, good to learn the correct way to implement this art
Any attempt to write the history of hacking, to chart the rise and fall of hacker groups, their Bulletin Board Systems (BBS), electronic magazines ("ezines" or "zines") and fantastic exploits across the globe is going to be incomplete. It has to be, as hacker history is being re-written almost daily, the curiosity and drive of the hacker forcing them always to find new techniques to explore, new technologies to master. Covering the whole of the history of hacking and the computer underground would take up the whole of this book, so I won't even try. Instead here are a few highlights, some well-known events, the odd famous hacker, some zines and groups who made their mark on hacker history. If you want to discover more, I recommend that you explore the history of the computer underground using the resources that are covered in Chapter 14: Learning More, any back issues of 2600 or PHRACK you can get your hands on, the LOD/H technical journals, the Computer Underground resources at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and any of the files floating around on the net. Maybe if you investigate further you'll find all the rest of the stuff left out here from lack of time and space: the rank and file hackers, the local hacking groups and short-term zines who keep the scene alive and who are busy planning their hacking exploits for the 21st century.I found the above information from the following link: http://www.telefonica.net/web2/vailankanni/HHB/HHB_CH03.htm