Out of all of the cons I've been to (and I've been to loads), Hacking In Progress was definitely the coolest and the most surreal hacker con ever. This was definitely a European event though there were a few arrivals from the US. The atmosphere was carnival. It was like an old style con where you got together to meet up with people face to face, exchange ideas and basically have loads of fun.
Around 2500 people attended: hackers, artists, media, police... a total mish - mash of cultures and ideas.
HIP was a total geek-fest. Computer networks were spread across the campsite. In the mornings (when I actually slept) I awoke to the chirping of birds and the booting up of windows95. In the evenings I sat around the campfire chatting to mates while the hardcore's played DOOM and exchanged warez.
During the day there were various activities. One tent held lock-picking classes. In another a group of astronomers had set up telescopes linked to computerized data-tracking equipment that you could print out. The cypherpunks had their own tent set up and I snuck in occasionally for a chat and a cold drink.
There was a videoconference link connected to HOPE but it crashed and was abandoned. In the main marquee, there were lectures on the usual faire of hacker interests: computer security, the legalities of hacking, anonymous re-mailing, cryptography, etc. The weather was boiling and my melted brain found it exceedingly difficult to concentrate. Most of my time I spent outside in the shade or the tent housing the bar, talking to people individually or in small groups.
The public telephones mysteriously malfunctioned on Sunday and could only be used to dial the emergency services. However if you dialed the Dutch equivalent to 911 you got a dial tone, so you could dial anywhere in the world for free. Supposedly this was a 'programming error' on the part of the Dutch Telephone Company.
Smaller more interactive workshops were also held. Though the technical lectures were really interesting, my favourite event was Padeluun's yo-yo workshop. Besides the fact that I got to keep the yo-yo, the workshop itself was farcical performance art. If you know the background you will understand what I mean, if not... Padeluun is a member of the FOEBUD group from Germany. These people do some really brilliant projects and are very politically motivated. One of their projects was to put up networks during the war in the former Yugoslavia. They also work to distribute PGP to groups in countries with oppressive governments. It is not just anyone who could pull off a workshop like this. This was high irony. When I walked up the workshop had already started and I came in on the line 'yo-yoing is good for social engineering, no one finds you a threat when you yo-yo'. As the head of the Dutch Computer Crimes division was in attendance I thought this rather hilarious.
The attitude at HIP was really positive. The European definition of hacking has always been broader than the American definition. Europeans accept the idea of 'social hacking'. Not hacking in the Unix sense but in the sense of subverting technology, whether it be by pirate radio, hacking smartcards, social engineering the feds... or whatever. Unlike some cons I've been to in the past couple of years, the atmosphere of HIP was really mature. There weren't any young kids trashing anything, there weren't any stairwells to flood, no one set off any fire alarms or randomly destroyed anything through boredom, and generally the people who attended had a lot of respect for the event and the organisers. Which means that no one I saw acted like a total wanker and no one is going to run the event out of town.
On a personal note it was brilliant meeting people there and hearing of some of the most recent projects people had on the go. Since the last time this event was held (HEU, 'Hacking at the End of the Universe' held at the same spot in 1993), the hacker scene has changed.
One difference that struck me straight away was the fact that there were just as many females as males. And these women weren't girlfriends or hacker ho's but women that are getting to grips with the technology and using it for various projects.
Felipe Rodrigez who started Hack-tic along with Rop Gonggrip back in the early days of Holland's hacking scene, has always been active on the political front "For us, things have changed. They used to call us criminals and think of us as terrorists. Now we advise the Ministry of Justice. We're the only ones who know the technology here."
Rodrigez also believes that hacking is still a very useful tool in countries like Peru or Serbia where the state is unfair and citizens need to "defend themselves." This view has made him unpopular with the secret services who consider the former Hack-tic more dangerous now that they have power in the business community in Holland.
Though things may have changed since the early days of hacking, the European scene seems to have become something more grown up. "The hacker scene is now pockets of culture. There's alternative media, the old hacker culture, the Unix hackers, irc, even astronomers who are into their own computer culture. It's now for all of the people, which is why we call it Hacking in Progress, we have progressed"
As a summation, HIP was fantastic. It was brilliant to see most of the people I have known in the European scene in one place and to meet some new people who I will definitely keep in touch with the coming years. I'm really looking forward to the next one! If you want photos and other articles check out the HIP site at www.hip97.nl.
Phrack Magazine, 01. September 1997