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So what happens when a bunch of hackers get together in Vegas? No, there’s no hacking into a casino’s network like a modern Ocean’s Eleven. Instead, there are some expected things like talks on security issues, but there are some unexpected items on the agenda at Defcon, too. There are hacking lessons for children, lock-picking contests, and a party with The Crystal Method on the turntables. Defcon’s twentieth convention took place from July 27 to 29.
Defcon started back in 1992 as a going-away party for founder Jeff Moss’ friend and fellow hacker. When the friend left early (missing the party,) Moss invited all of his hacker friends to the already-planned party in Las Vegas. The hundred people in attendance created the ideas and foundations for the now-annual conference. The name was taken from the U.S. Armed Forces’ defense readiness condition, shortened to DEFCON. In the movie WarGames, which featured the U.S. Armed Forces’ version of DEFCON, Las Vegas was selected as a nuclear target. Since Las Vegas was the location of the gathering, Moss decided to name the event Defcon.
The Wikipedia article says that “to a lesser extent, CON also stands for convention and DEF stands for the number 3 on a telephone, a reference to phone phreakers.” The convention now has speakers, events, and contests on computer code, computer architecture, phone phreaking, hardware modification, and anything that can be hacked.
The event now appeals to computer security professionals, crackers, security researchers, hackers, journalists, lawyers, federal government employees, and cyber-criminals, according to Wikipedia. Starting last year, attendees brought their children along to go to Defcon Kids. These children are already more advanced in electronics and hacking than most adults can ever hope to be. This year’s event had sessions on breaking crypto code, solving a crime with the Department of Defense, breaking into your school’s network, and working with circuits. There were panels on cell phones’ location data tracking, drones, and 3D printing. Kids like hands-on stuff, so there was a lock-picking race, a live con game, and a contest to find vulnerabilities.
Adults got more advanced topics like sessions on hacking aircraft tracking or national transportation systems, backdoors in hardware and industrial control software, privacy topics, and security with iOS, Android, and Win 8. Kids aren’t the only ones who got to participate in contests, adults got to compete in the fields of exploit-coding, tamper-proof packaging, Defcon art, capture the packet, lock-picking, social engineering, beverage cooling contraptions, and beards. Yes, there was a beard championship. If you were looking to do some good outside of hacking, there was a blood and bone marrow drive. For those who wanted to leave technology behind, there was a two-hour bike ride in the desert.
At night, the hackers let loose with “goth dance parties” according to CNET. Nerdcore rappers Duo Core (you can tell he’s nerdcore by the computer processor-themed name alone) and Dale Chase took to the turntables, as did DJs MC Frontalot and The Crystal Method.
As harmless as a convention that includes kids sounds, Defcon has faced its fair share of legal issues. Software companies and even Boston’s T subway system have worked to block speakers from disclosing weaknesses in their systems, and in 2007, a Dateline NBC reporter attempted to record hackers admitting to crimes before she was outed and chased from the conference.
As far as hacker conferences go, Defcon sounds like a lot of fun for everyone. Well, everyone except those who may get hacked as a result. Kids, party animals, security buffs, and hackers alike can enjoy themselves at Defcon, so if you have an interest in any of the related fields, start planning a trip to Defcon 21 for next summer.