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Bits & Bites: Hackers gather for monthly Cartersville meeting

JAMES SWIFT/THE DAILY TRIBUNE NEWS
Cyber Tech Cafe owner Nathan Underwood organizes a “hacker” meet-up in Cartersville every month at Jefferson’s Restaurant.
It’s not the usual gathering at Jefferson’s Restaurant on Main Street —instead of shooting the breeze over football and baseball, affiliates of DEF CON North Atlanta talk shop about wireless routers and Windows XP security flaws.

About a dozen people showed up for the group’s monthly meeting Tuesday night. DEF CON North Atlanta, also known as DC770, is organized by Euharlee resident Nathan Underwood.

He has been the owner of Cyber Tech Cafe in Cartersville for about 15 years. “We do I.T. work for residential customers, small business customers, just short of enterprise,” he said. “We have a service footprint from Seattle, Washington, to Glasgow, Scotland.”

It’s the second event for CJ Fields, a 23-year-old who travels from Acworth for the meetings.

“Hacking to me is not like anybody would imagine from TV,” he said. “Hacking to me is just a form of penetration testing ... I consider hacking a job.”

DC770 is inspired by DEF CON, an annual event held in Las Vegas since 1993. The yearly gathering is one of the largest meetings of “hackers” on the planet.

“DEF CON has a reputation for being kind of a shady underbelly of technology,” Underwood said. “But the reality is that DEF CON is just a group of like-minded people who get together annually who, otherwise, would only get to see each other online.”

The allure of DEF CON, Underwood said, is the fellowship of what he calls “the hacker mindset” — a curiosity about the many “alternative uses” of technology.

“The press has turned the term ‘hacker’ into a bad word,” he said. “People without that hacker mindset look at something and say ‘why?’ A hacker is going to look at something and say ‘why not?’”

He explained the difference between benign hackers — often referred to as “white hat hackers” — and more malevolent hackers, or “black hat hackers.”

“A white hat hacker is somebody who uses that skill set, that mentality to find problems and fix them,” he said. “The white hat hacker would use a rock for a wheel and make it easier to transport goods from place to place. The black hat hacker would use the rock to bash somebody in the head.”

Underwood — who describes himself as “a Christian, a husband, a father and a hacker” — specializes in information security. He is also certified as an “ethical hacker” by the EC-Council.

Instead of hacking to wreak havoc, Underwood said he and his DC770 associates hack to solve problems. By exposing security flaws, he said hackers can help businesses detect deficiencies in their systems and networks and remedy technological vulnerabilities before disaster strikes.

He noted that in years past, attendees at the DEF CON gathering in Las Vegas have even hacked voting machines and motor vehicle computer systems. Highlighting how easy it is to take advantage of I.T. weaknesses, Underwood continued, gives businesses, manufacturers and even the every day internet user opportunities to beef up their cyber security games and potentially thwart malicious online actors.

Underwood said some attendees travel from as far away as Carrollton and Roswell for the monthly meet-up.

“We have folks who have never done any kind of I.T. work before and we have seasoned professionals,” he said. “It’s just a really good cross-section of people. There is no single age, career, race, sex or anything that encompasses that hacker spirit and hacker mindset. There are no other commonalities there other than we’re all trying to find cool, new ways to do cool, new things with old, broken stuff.”

Fields agreed.

“It’s about being able to look at your computer and knowing whether it’s infected or not, being able to go out and access the web in ways you didn’t know you could,” he said. “It’s being able to understand how networking works.”

DC770 meets the first Tuesday night of each month at Jefferson’s Restaurant on 28 W. Main St. at 7 p.m. More information on the group is available online at www.dc770.org.

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