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Undergound. Go to Table of Contents.







   It was billed as the `largest annual gathering of those in, related

   to, or wishing to know more about the computer underground', so I

   thought I had better go.


   HoHoCon in Austin, Texas, was without a doubt one of the strangest

   conferences I have attended. During the weekend leading up to New Year's

   Day 1995, the Ramada Inn South was overrun by hackers, phreakers,

   ex-hackers, underground sympathisers, journalists, computer company

   employees and American law enforcement agents. Some people had come from

   as far away as Germany and Canada.


   The hackers and phreakers slept four or six to a room--if they slept

   at all. The feds slept two to a room. I could be wrong; maybe they

   weren't feds at all. But they seemed far too well dressed and well

   pressed to be anything else. No one else at HoHoCon ironed their



   I left the main conference hall and wandered into Room 518--the

   computer room--sat down on one of the two hotel beds which had been

   shoved into a corner to make room for all the computer gear, and

   watched. The conference organisers had moved enough equipment in there

   to open a store, and then connected it all to the Internet. For nearly

   three days, the room was almost continuously full. Boys in their late

   teens or early twenties lounged on the floor talking, playing with

   their cell phones and scanners or tapping away at one of the six or

   seven terminals. Empty bags of chips, Coke cans and pizza boxes

   littered the room. The place felt like one giant college dorm floor

   party, except that the people didn't talk to each other so much as to

   their computers.


   These weren't the only interesting people at the con. I met up with an

   older group of nonconformists in the computer industry, a sort of

   Austin intelligentsia. By older, I mean above the age of 26. They were

   interested in many of the same issues as the young group of

   hackers--privacy, encryption, the future of a digital world--and they

   all had technical backgrounds.


   This loose group of blue-jean clad thinkers, people like Doug Barnes,

   Jeremy Porter and Jim McCoy, like to meet over enchiladas and

   margueritas at university-style cafes. They always seemed to have

   three or four projects on the run. Digital cash was the flavour of the

   month when I met them. They were unconventional, perhaps even a little

   weird, but they were also bright, very creative and highly innovative.

   They were just the sort of people who might marry creative ideas with

   maturity and business sense, eventually making widespread digital cash

   a reality.


   I began to wonder how many of the young men in Room 518 might follow

   the same path. And I asked myself: where are these people in



   Largely invisible or perhaps even non-existent, it seems. Except maybe

   in the computer underground. The underground appears to be one of the

   few places in Australia where madness, creativity, obsession,