The Ekoparty Security Conference is one manifestation of the hacking boom. It has been held annually in Buenos Aires since it was founded by Juan Pablo Daniel Borgna, Leonardo Pigner, Federico Kirschbaum, Jerónimo Basaldúa and Francisco Amato in 2001. During this gathering of hackers in Argentina's capital, securities pros present research, participate in hacking competitions, race to pick locks, and meet with major securities companies from around the world.Ekoparty describes itself as "a unique space for the exchange of knowledge" which "provides a series of dynamic and relaxed activities, related to playfulness and computer security." Despite how serious hackers are about their work, there's no doubt they have a lot of fun doing what they do, a theme this conference embraces and encourages among attendees.There has also been a pop culture embrace of Argentina's hacking culture. A crime and mystery TV mini-series called El Hacker premiered in 2001, highlighting a national interest in this line of work during this time period, and reemphasizing hacking as a new theme in the global entertainment (The Matrix was released just two years prior with international success).
Before going on to write one of the more important exploits in recent years, Rizzo developed into a hacker the old-fashioned way: he learned to program by hand at the same time he was learning to read and write, he participated in hacker call-ins where a group would discuss security and "H/P/C/V/A: hacking, phreaking, cracking, virus, anarchy". He also created security challenges for video games with his older brother, and dove into securities magazines written by fellow Argentines.One of the few Spanish-language securities magazines available at the time, Rizzo said, happened to be written by Argentine hackers, Minotauro Magazine. Another important security magazine Juliano remembers reading was Virus Report, which was edited by the now-deceased Argentine hacker, Fernando Bonsembiante.
Apa and Penagos found it was possible to manipulate sensors from up to 40 miles away, a security gap that could potentially have had catastrophic consequences in the wrong hands.
"There were so many problems and a lot of sadness throughout the country," Apa told me. "So a fascination with technology became a kind of escapism. For some hackers, learning to hack felt like doing something against 'the system' or against major corporations that they felt negatively about."This sentiment builds on one of the themes that was being discussed in hacker circles such as during the calls Rizzo dialed into: anarchy. Hacking is necessarily a subversive pursuit, and who is better equipped to subvert than brilliant computer pros accustomed to living life on the precipice of possible turmoil?Hackers are, ultimately, highly skilled and creative problem-solvers, and as it happened, Argentina was faced with a vast number of difficult problems on nearly all levels (political, social, financial) at the same time home internet was becoming common, and there were a lot of young people willing to learn their way through the barriers to become computer pros.Due to economic instability and restrictions on imports, Argentines have always had to make things work with fewer and lesser resources. The benefit here, Apa said, is a developed knack for "using what is available in ways that nobody else has thought of to accomplish new things."This makes them not only particularly Argentine, but also exceptional hackers.Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.
Argentines often refer to themselves and their compatriots as "life hackers".