Defcon is the one of the oldest and largest continually running hacker conventions, started by The Dark Tangent. According to their own FAQ, Defcon started as a party for members of “Platinum Net,” a Fido protocol-based hacking network out of Canada. Fido was one of the protocols used to store and forward information before the Internet was pervasive and popular. People used it to create ad-hoc networks that stored and forwarded files and messages across the world.

Back in the late 1980s and early ’90s, the phone company did not offer unlimited service. They charged significant amounts of money to make long distance calls. Many of the kids who grew up on Commodores, Apples, Amigas, Spectrums and PCs traded cracked/pirated games (warez), traded demos, chatted, and wanted to explore.

A number of groups came together to find weaknesses in the phone system, Alliance Teleconferencing, payphones, the nascent wide-area networks such as TYMNET and PC Pursuit, and corporate phone systems so that they could avoid having to pay for these long-distance services. This was called phone phreaking and was part of the hacker scene.

Many of these networks and their brethren – especially the main one, FIDONet, before the Internet – relied on phreakers to help facilitate cheap or free communication. Maintaining store and forward networks to relay messages, warez and files cost a lot of money at slow baud rates.

This extended to hacking, where numerous people got a hold of accounts on university or corporate systems that had Internet, TYMNET, Telenet or PC Pursuit connections, and extended the scene to Internet Relay Chat (IRC), proprietary chat systems, File Transfer Protocol (FTP) sites and Internet or network BBSes. Outdials, which were connections from these systems to standard telephone modems to allow for free long-distance modem calls, were critical for college students that wanted to call BBS systems at home.

The scene members got together regularly at parties and meetings. Diversi-dial (DDial) had at least one national convention. There was HoHoCon in the Winter, PumpCon (which still exists) in the autumn in Philadelphia, and SummerCon in the summer. There were numerous others, including the 2600 meetings, which still occur the first Friday of every month. The demo scene groups still have meetings in the US and Europe. Even the people that met about their Commodores have their choice of multiple Vintage Computer Federation events.