Feds asked to sit out Defcon hacking conference this year

Some hackers don't like the idea of socializing with government agents at Defcon following recent US surveillance revelations

The organizers of the Defcon hacking convention have publicly asked U.S. federal government workers not to attend the event this year due to tension in the hacker community caused by the recent revelations about the U.S. government's electronic surveillance efforts.

The historically antagonistic relationship between hackers and the government seemed to have eased up in recent years, with three-letter government agencies increasingly looking to recruit cybersecurity talent at high-profile hacker conferences such as Defcon and Black Hat.

One of the recurring contests at Defcon is Spot the Fed, which consists of attendees attempting to out government agents present at the show for fun and T-shirts.

However, it's not clear if the contest will run this year, as Defcon founder Jeff Moss asked the "feds" to sit out this year's event. Moss is known as The Dark Tangent in the hacker community, and is also the chief security officer of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

"When it comes to sharing and socializing with feds, recent revelations have made many in the community uncomfortable about this relationship," Moss wrote in a blog post titled "Feds, we need some time apart."

"I think it would be best for everyone involved if the feds call a 'time-out' and not attend DEF CON this year," he said. "This will give everybody time to think about how we got here, and what comes next."

The request came as a surprise to some people, especially since General Keith B. Alexander, the director of the U.S. National Security Agency and head of the U.S. Cyber Command spoke at Defcon last year. Moss said at the time that he had been trying for the past 20 years to get a high-ranking NSA official to speak at the conference.

The new decision by Defcon organizers is indicative of tensions that have been building within the information security community for some time, said Kyle Maxwell, a senior network security specialist at Verizon, in a blog post. "While not new, I feel a mood in the hacker community that has resurged to levels I've not seen in years. The Snowden affair really only brought to the fore problems that seemed to worsen during the Bush administration, then got quiet with many people feeling that perhaps things will change under President Obama."

While Moss' request to federal agents can be viewed as a political statement, some people believe that it actually stems from a desire to avoid conflicts during the event.

"People who run things, from corporate CEOs to conference organizers, learn to keep themselves above the fray," said Robert Graham, the CEO of security firm Errata Security in a blog post commenting on the decision. "They spend a lot of effort heading off conflict before it has a chance to start. They don't take sides."

A highly visible presence from the government at Defcon is likely to generate conflict from people upset over the Snowden revelations, Graham said. "From shouting matches, to physical violence, to 'hack the fed,' something bad might occur. Or, simply attendees will choose to stay away. Any reasonable conference organizer, be they pro-fed or anti-fed, would want to reduce the likelihood of this conflict."

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Errata SecurityGovernment use of ITsecurityverizongovernmentprivacy

More about BushICANNInternet Corporation for Assigned Names and NumbersNational Security AgencyNSAVerizonVerizon

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Lucian Constantin

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    IDG Live Webinar:The right collaboration strategy will help your business take flight

    Speakers - Mike Harris, Engineering Services Manager, Jetstar - Christopher Johnson, IT Director APAC, 20th Century Fox - Brent Maxwell, Director of Information Systems, THE ICONIC - IDG MC/Moderator Anthony Caruana

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts