The Obama administration’s big push for improved cyber security just hit a roadblock after the organisers for the hacker conference DEF CON banned feds from attending. Maybe next year?
In a letter posted on the event’s website late Wednesday night, DEF CON founder Jeff Moss said very plainly that “it would be best for everyone involved if the feds call a ‘time-out’ and not attend DEF CON this year” in light of recent revelations about the National Security Agency’s overzealous spying on Americans. “The community is digesting things that the Feds have had a decade to understand and come to terms with,” Moss told Reuters after posting the letter. “A little bit of time and distance can be a healthy thing, especially when emotions are running high.”
This is a big deal because DEF CON is arguably the federal government’s biggest opportunity to recruit hackers over to their side. Again, cyber security is a huge priority for the Obama administration, and over the next five years, the Pentagon will spend some $US23 billion beefing up the nation’s capabilities. And the NSA is leading the charge. In fact, the NSA is so serious about recruiting hackers from DEF CON, they have a special page set up on their career site for attendees. (Ironically, in last year’s message the agency says, “Maybe by the time DEF CON 21 rolls around, you’ll have a whole new perspective on the importance of what you do.”)
It remains to be seen whether the feds will respect the Dark Tangent’s wishes and steer clear of this year’s conference. At the end of the day, it wouldn’t be that hard to put on sunglasses and a black t-shirt and sneak in. That said, hackers tend to be pretty good at figuring out things like fake identities, so the secret wouldn’t be safe for that long.
Jeff Moss’s full letter to the Feds:
Feds, we need some time apart.
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 on 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 many in the community uncomfortable about this relationship. Therefore, I think it would be best for everyone involved if the feds call a “time-out” and not attend DEF CON this year.
This will give everybody time to think about how we got here, and what comes next.
The Dark Tangent