[ISN] Hackers and establishment to mingle at DEFCON
isn at c4i.org
Tue Jul 20 08:12:24 EDT 2004
By Doug Mohney
19 July 2004
DEFCON 12, the oldest continuously running hacker convention, takes
place at the end of the month in Vegas. Already there's an up tick of
fearful announcements from PR flacks and the press. Expect to read
more over the next two weeks, blaming everything from the latest
Windows XP security holes to mass toaster failure on the forthcoming
gathering. It's a perception that's a little bit out of touch with
At the earliest DEFCON hacker conventions in Las Vegas, one of the
most popular street games was "Spot the Fed". DEFCON attendees were
invited to single out the US law enforcement federal government
employees in attendance. Successful outing results in the spotter
receiving a "Spot the Fed T-shirt" complete with a universe of Uncle
Sam government agency logos. It was a playful teasing between supposed
adversaries, with DEFCON serving a Switzerland-type role where
so-called "Black Hats" could strut the latest code hacks and methods
to break down security procedures while "White Hats" took notes on
what cyber badboys had discovered.
Over the years, the relationship between organisers and Feds has
evolved into a more complex one. Today, DEFCON staff discreetly swap
"I'm the Fed" T-shirts for three-letter-agency coffee mugs and other
swag. While no official statistics are kept - everyone pays in cash at
the door - the total number of Feds attending the conference has
steadily gone up over the years, both in terms of sheer bodies and on
a percentage basis.
U.S. government employees started officially appearing on the DEFCON
program guide back in DEFCON 4/1996 when the FBI's San Francisco
Computer Crime Squad showed up to speak to the crowd, not arrest them.
Over the years, speakers from the United States Army and National
Security Agency have made presentations.
For DEFCON 12, an associate professor from the West Point military
academy, an analyst from the Navy Criminal Investigative Service will
be among the military feds giving talks, but perhaps the most
interesting talk will be given by Robert Morris Senior, former chief
scientist at NSA and father of Robert Tappan Morris. Junior is best
known for his 1988 release of the original Internet worm. In addition,
a number of West Point professors may be roaming around DEFCON to get
a taste of potential future adversaries.
There are also likely to be plenty of paying U.S. government workers
at DEFCON's commercial brother, the more formal Black Hat briefing &
training held the week before DEFCON. The two day training courses run
$2000-2400 per person (lunch and two coffee breaks included) and have
proved to be quite a draw since launching in 1997.
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