“Last night, I stayed up until 6 o’clock figuring out how to do this,” says Riley “Caezar” Eller, a slender and bookish 27-year-old. Scribbling furiously on a dry-erase board covered with boxy diagrams representing a pair of networked computers, Eller maps out a novel cyberattack-a method of disabling a supposedly impregnable system with a few clever lines of code. His listeners nod each step of the way, occasionally grunting their approval. When the presentation is over and the imaginary defenses have all been surmounted, they break into polite applause.
Such demonstrations are part of the standard curriculum at the major security consultancies. But Eller isn’t giving this lecture in a sterile conference room at PricewaterhouseCoopers or Deloitte & Touche.
The setting is a subterranean hideout that closely resembles a frat house, complete with lava lamps and a rickety bar that reeks of week-old spilled Smirnoff. His cohorts – sworn enemies of office cubicles and Brooks Brothers suits – are members of an invite-only group of ace programmers, cryptography enthusiasts, and hardware wizards. Their think tank-cum-social club is known as the Ghetto Hackers.