The Black Hat conference in Las Vegas reunited three important figures in the history of famed 35-year-old hacking group Cult of the Dead Cow (cDc), including one member who made his first-ever appearance under his actual name. But the real name-dropping began when the group members shared their thoughts on another former member, Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke – as well as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
“I thought the original stated goal of WikiLeaks was a laudable one. I think it quickly became a personal... ego trip” for founder Assange, said Luke Benfey, who used the occasion of Black Hat to publicly acknowledge that he is the former cDc Minister of Propaganda “Deth Veggie.” (He now is head of operations at London-based e-commerce engagement platform provider Cloud.IQ Ltd.
Assange, who in his teens formed his own hacking group, the International Subversives, has long carried the reputation among the hacker community of being an “a**hole,” Benfey stated bluntly. At least, for a time, he was “doing something good,” but no longer, Benfey continued.
Benfey was joined by Peiter “Mudge” Zatko, head of security at Stripe, and Christien Rioux, co-founder of Veracode. Moderating the panel session was Joseph Menn, Reuters reporter and author of the new book "Cult of the Dead Cow: How the Original Hacking Supergroup Might Just Save the World.”
Unlike with Assange, the panelists had more positive feedback to share regarding 46-year-old former Texas Congressman O’Rourke, who as a teenager was also a cDc hacker with the handle Psychedelic Warlord. While acknowledging that O’Rourke posted some immature content during his tenure there, the three cDc members credited O’Rourke for integrating women into the hacking group.
Benfey said that O’Rourke was part of the cDc generation that immediately preceded him, adding that O’Rourke’s contributions were very “influential on me.” Zatko noted that O’Rourke was a very “accepting” individual, and embodied the values that one would want in a hacktivist group looking to change the world for the better.
Over the course of cDc’s three-plus decades, its members have been credited with ushering in the age of the modern hacker convention, introducing a slew of hacker tools including the Microsoft remote administration tool Back Orifice, and publicizing their efforts with the intent of making software developers acknowledge and fix their vulnerabilities.