Situation Report: Hacker convention brings out top NSA spy

In less than a week, the 20th annual DefCon Hackers convention will take place in Las Vegas, Nevada. The yearly gathering brings out the good, the bad and the script kiddies alike. Computer security practitioners, cyber-criminals, grey and white hat hackers, law enforcement, and members of both the US intelligence community as well as probably foreign government representatives will be on hand to listen to presentations, see novel techniques, and view new innovative methods for cyber intrusion. DefCon has become a Mecca of sorts for those interested in groundbreaking developments and nefarious possibilities within the computer security and cyber realm. As organizers of the event explain in their call for presentations, “DefCon is all about thinking up cool and new ways to approach everything from the most complex modern technology to hacking grandma’s toaster […] what attack exploits, defensive techniques, or unique research [have] you have been working on”. The focus is often two-fold “how to break it”, followed by a segment on “how to fix it”. “Spot the Fed” is an ongoing and widely popular contest at the convention. The task of regular attendees is to properly identify plain-clothed members of law enforcement or the intelligence community. As DefCon explains, “if you see some shady MIB (Men in Black) earphone penny loafer sunglass wearing Clint Eastwood to live and die in LA type lurking about, point him out”.

Attendees are encouraged to make a scene and yell out that they spotted a Fed. An interview of the suspect will take place and an informal vote will be conducted, as to the likely veracity of the attendee being a so-called Fed.  It’s meant to be in good fun and if the Fed is ousted a tee shirt is awarded to the accuser (“I spotted the fed!”) and to the Fed (“I am the fed!”). US government officials have been a mainstay of attendees over the years, as it has been an informal way to track new vulnerabilities, meet with hackers, potentially offer some folks a legitimate job, and to identify less well-intentioned parties. Hacking competitions, lock picking sessions and efforts to trap unsuspecting individuals who log onto the Internet through insecure WiFi connections end up on the Wall of Sheep. There is a carnival atmosphere in the air as geeks, ninjas, and technophiles congregate.

Just as in years past there has been a steady stream of law enforcement and members of the intelligence community on hand and this year will be no different.  However, according to Reuters, the 20th Anniversary of DefCon will have some seriously prominent individuals in attendance. General Keith Alexander, the director of the National Security Agency, will not only be in attendance, but he is also currently slated to be speaker at the convention as well. General Alexander’s attendance would be the highest-ranking members of the intelligence community to ever attend the hacker convention. Jeff Moss, AKA Dark Tangent, one of the original organizers of the first DefCon conference stated, “we’re going to show him the conference. He wants to wander around”, adding: “one of the things I try to do at DefCon is take some of the hackers out of their comfort zone […] I want to expose them to people they would normally not hear from”.

General Alexander’s background and his four masters degrees, one in electronic warfare and another in physics, makes it likely that he will be able to hold his own when taking a deep technical dive into the newest discoveries in the hacking world. While the notion of having the director of the NSA at a hackers convention will likely rub some attendees —past and future— the wrong way, it definitely raises the bar in terms of publicity and exposure.  Some observers have complained that the presentations have become more stale and conventional in recent years, so it is possible that this will boost turnout and enhance future presentations in the years to come. DefCon will take place at the Rio Las Vegas Hotel & Casino from July 26 to July 29, 2012. It should be interesting to see what technohazards are revealed and how General Alexander’s visit is received.

About intelNews
Expert news and commentary on intelligence, espionage, spies and spying, by Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen.

2 Responses to Situation Report: Hacker convention brings out top NSA spy

  1. Kidd says:

    too bad this isn’t being broadcast over the ‘net in some fashion. or maybe it is, and me and dupree are not informed

  2. timcoleman says:

    @Kidd I don’t think the conference will be live streamed. However, DefCon does archive talks and slides on its main portal following the conference. You can check out past conferences and the upcoming one (when it’s posted) here: I’ll keep an eye out to see if there is a live stream. Hope that helps.

We welcome informed comments and corrections. Comments attacking or deriding the author(s), instead of addressing the content of articles, will NOT be approved for publication.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: