WANT TO GO?: Hack3rCon runs Friday through Sunday at the Ramada Inn Downtown Charleston, 600 Kanawha Blvd. E. A weekend pass is $75 adults or $40 for students. See hack3rcon.org for details and a full schedule.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- If you idly click through the online schedule for this weekend's third Hack3rCon conference in Charleston (or to give the name in official hacker-ese: Hack3rCon^3), you might grow worried that they know something you don't.
Along with talks of interest solely to information security pros, like "Bash Scripting 101 for Pen Testers" and "Intro to Linux Exploit Development," there are ones titled "In Case of Zombies, Break Glass" and "Hacking Survival" on computing in a post-apocalyptic world.
Rob Dixon is a co-founder of 304Geeks.com, which helped spawn HackerCon, a growing information security conference that attracts information security researchers and practitioners from around the country.
This year's "Doomsday Eve" theme is both lighthearted (the undead are cited more than once in the schedule) and pretty deadly serious. The conference unfolds Friday through Sunday at the Ramada Inn Downtown Charleston (the former Charleston House).
As West Virginians found when windstorms knocked out parts of the state's grid for weeks this summer, the system can fall apart, said Dixon. Or what about a far worse Doomsday scenario like nuclear terrorism or worldwide economic collapse, said Dixon.
"Doomsday and IT -- really they have to be together," he said. "Doomsday preparation is about infrastructure preparation. People protecting homes, businesses keeping their business alive. Electricity, water, whatever -- information technology touches on all aspects of our lives. It's a great platform to bring people together."
Larry Pesce, co-host of the website survivalnerds.com, will give the "Hacking Survival" talk as a 9 a.m. Friday keynote address at the conference. Here's how the topic is described:
"Let's assume that the world as we know it has come to an end. How? EMP? Financial Ruin? Mayans? Depending on how, it actually may make a difference to us hackers. Once we are at the end of the world, how will we get access to the 'tubez? Likely we won't, but we can apply the hacker mentality to bringing it back."
Reached at his home in Rhode Island, Pesce said post-apocalyptic computing may sound amusing, but when the grid goes down, you'll want to be around folks who have prepared.
"The talk I'm giving, developed with a friend of mine, is how to rebuild the Internet at the end of the Earth, to prepare pre-apocalypse to be able to do that when a lot of the infrastructure available now isn't going to be available.
Pesce is a long-time "security evangelist," who by day works as a "Penetration Tester/Ethical Hacker" for the NWN Corporation and also hosts the PaulDotCom Security Weekly podcast (www.pauldotcom.com).
His HackerCon talk is both "a little bit of a mental game and it's a little bit sort of real-world scenario," he said.
"If you think about the state of the world today, there are natural disasters, but you start talking about something longer. General collapses, whether through economic failure or military disaster -- what happens if things sort of spiral downward?"
Zombies are always fun to think about, said Pesce, but what about a more possible apocalyptic event like nuclear terrorism?
Pesce paints one scenario, describing how he thinks an electromagnetic pulse from a relatively small nuclear device detonated 65 miles over the United States could cripple the nation's electric and electronic grid.
"If your electronic devices are not basically sealed in a metal box, they will no longer work anymore," he said.
Whatever large-scale, lingering disaster you can envision, if the grid is down for weeks and then months who -- to quote "Ghostbusters" -- you gonna call?
His website traffics in some practical solutions for restoring communications, wielding localized solutions that can then be expanded. These might involve, for instance, solar-powered ham radio and localized computer networks, using stockpiled wireless routers purchased today from a big-box store like Best Buy, which likely won't be open after the zombie apocalypse -- or may be full of zombies.
Pesce's own home is a living example of one such idea. A ham radio fan, both his ham radio and home computer are powered off a solar-powered battery system.
On a practical level, similar expanded systems could begin to restore communications to a street, town or region, or could direct the Red Cross or other aid or emergency or governmental units to a cut-off area.
Consider Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which flooded 80 percent of New Orleans and cut-off whole communities from the outside world. A so-called "doomsday prepper" hacker setup could have come into play and helped saved lives, said Pesce.
Preparation, though, means getting your gear ready now and "practice, practice, practice," putting together a local network, stripping it down and doing it again, he said.
"At that time of disaster, there's going to be plenty of stuff you're going to have to worry about so this stuff has to be second nature. You want to find ways to be able to communicate with other folks, to protect yourself and family and potentially your neighbors."
Pesce said it'd be easy to portray him and others "survival nerds" as "one of those crazy prepper kooks."
But the world is an uncertain place whose functioning now depends almost entirely on electricity and the ones and zeroes of electronic computer code. When the grid goes, where does your world go?
"We're not really crazy," he said. "Maybe we can help bring some of those ones and zeros back."
Well, maybe a little bit crazy.
Pesce obviously likes tinkering with technology and building things. Recent accomplishment? A pneumatic cannon mounted on a Barbie-and-Ken size remote-controlled toy jeep. The turret moves and fires those stress balls you squeeze in your palm.
"We were firing those stress balls at 280 feet per second," Pesce noted proudly. "They hurt when you get hit with them. It's non-lethal ordinance."
Reach Douglas Imbrogno at doug...@cnpapers.com or 304-348-3017.