The annual DEF CON hacking convention has asked the federal government to abstain from this year’s meet for the first time in its 21 year old history, saying Edward Snowden’s revelations have made some in the community uncomfortable of having Feds there. An irreverent crowd of more than 15,000 hackers, researchers, corporate security persons, privacy advocates, artists and others are expected to attend the Las Vegas convention that begins on August 2nd.
“For over two decades Def Con has been an open nexus of hacker culture, a place where seasoned pros, hackers, academics and feds can meet, share ideas and party to neutral territory. Our community operates in the spirit of openness, verified trust and mutual respect. When it comes to sharing and socializing with Feds, recent revelations have made in the community uncomfortable about this relationship. Therefore i think it would be best for everyone involved if the Fed’s call for a ‘time out’ and not attend Def con this year”, Def con founder Jeff Moss said in an announcement posted on the website.”
Moss, who is an advisor on cyber security to the Department of Homeland Security told Reuters, that it was a “tough call”, but believed the Def Con community needs time make sense of the recent revelations about U.S. surveillance programs. “The community is digesting things that the Feds have a decade to understand and come to terms with” said Moss, who is popularly called as “The Dark Tangent” in hacking circles. He said the move was not designed to create tension but to diffuse it. During previous conventions the conference had attracted officials from federal agencies including the CIA, NIA, FBI, Secret service and all branches of military.
Last year, General Keith Alexander head of the National Security Agency was the key note speaker at the world’s largest hacker conference. The audience gave modest applause and was respectful to the top military leader, he was also asked on questions of Snooping, which he delayed vehemently. The four star General is scheduled to speak at the Black Hat conference, a smaller two day hacking conference, also founded by Moss. The participation fee for the two day event costs $ 2,000 compared to Def Con event which costs $ 180.
Brian Krebs, a former reporter of Washington Post and now writes on his website Krebs on Security says the relationship between the two groups have been strained considerably. Krebs, who writes extensively on internet security, hacking and technology, also says that the relationship between the hacker community and the feds were for many years colored by a sense of mutual antagonism and mistrust. With the NSA under public scrutiny for alleged tapping of phone and e-mail data in U.S. and its allies including the European Union, it remains to be seen whether officials from the NSA, CIA or other three letter agencies will make any strong or sustained showing at this year’s gathering. The earlier conferences of Def Con had become a fertile ground for recruiting. U.S. military, intelligence agencies and law enforcement use the event for recruiting technical staff for their organizations.
The term Def Con originates from the movie WarGames, referencing the U.S. Armed Forces defense readiness condition (Def Con). In the movie Las Vegas was selected as a nuclear target, and since the event is hosted in Las Vegas, it occurred to The Dark Tangent (Moss) to name the convention.