February 3, 2001

LinuxWorld recap: Pitbull stops 'hackers,' show security doesn't

Author: JT Smith

- by Eric Ries -
Covalent is a commercial vendor
of
Apache products. They were at the 2001 LinuxWorld Expo, of course, and
got
my personal award for best billboards: simple black ones that read
"Welcome
fellow hackers." They even gave me a T-shirt with the definition of
"hacker" on the back. But trouble was brewing ...

Pitbull LX is a new much-hyped
security system for Linux. Of course, they were at the show. They had
huge
billboards, too, which read "Pitbull LX stops hackers in their tracks."
Good
thing they had these two camps on opposite sides of the show floor. It
could have been ugly.

I asked the sales reps at Covalent if they'd received any trouble from
the
Pitbull team, but they were playing it cool. They didn't seem stopped
in
their tracks at all.

A bit shocked that a distributor of Linux-based
software would have never --not even once -- read the Jargon
file
definition of hacker vs. cracker
, I went over to the Pitbull booth
to
see what they had to say for themselves. The sales rep there was very
helpful, offering me a press kit and a graphical demo of their product.
Asked if their product was designed to stop both hackers and crackers,
he
described how Pitbull LX works on security from the inside and outside
of a
system. Asked how that relates, in any way, to the hacker/cracker
distinction, he replied that he had heard of the distinction, but
wasn't
really sure what it was all about. Nevertheless, he assured me that
Pitbull
LX could definitely handle both of them. Asked if "All his base are
belong
to us,"
he had no comment. Hmph.

It was not too surprising, after all, to find out that the PR agents
were
keeping any trouble quiet. But my suspicions were aroused by the large
number of uniformed officers patrolling the show floor. I started
following
them around, learning their patterns. Their network of crisscrosses
centered around a certain panel of the blue-and-white drapes that
marked
the boundaries of the show floor. From time to time, they would
disappear
behind this curtain for a few minutes. Deciding that this was my
opportunity to get the real scoop, I waited for one of the guards to
leave,
pulled back the curtain, and stepped in.

The security headquuarters for LinuxWorld was a bit underwhelming. A lone guard
sat at
a plain table with a small TV and radio playing some top 40 hits. I
waved
my press pass around and asked if she would mind answering some
questions.
She seemed eager; as it turns out, she doesn't get much company back
there
during her all-day shift of sitting. I tried to find out of there had
been
any disturbances at the show, but she assured me that this was one of
the
most civilized she'd seen in her year-long stint in conference security. With the exception of a few people going overboard at the IBM Opening
Reception
's open bar, they didn't have to eject anybody yet. It was
nothing, she assured me, compared with the open-to-the-public car show
or
the extravagant bartenders expo.

So, no hacker/cracker showdowns or fights over the email garden -- a
little
disappointing. But I did find out a few interesting tidbits. For one,
shows
like LWE are patrolled by the New York State Troopers, who do the real
security work. Employees like the one I spoke to are much lower on the
totem pole. In fact, all employees at the show are required to submit
to
daily searches every time they enter and leave the convention center.

Do
attendees of the LinuxWorld Expo realize this dark underside that makes
their glossy drinks-and-mixers world of corporate excess work? Nope.
They're too busy collecting
swag
. Incidentally, my favorite score: a light-up yo-yo from
Pumpkin
Networks. Also incidentally, I asked the Pumpkin sales rep which of their
booth's attractions had generated more geek interest: the yo-yos or the
skimpy
police women models
on display? "Definitely the yo-yos," he assured
me.

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