DEF CON – the hackers’ annual conference


Many people must be wishing that the devil could cast his net on a small part of Las Vegas during the first week in August. The location is the Rio Hotel and Casino and the occasion is Def Con, otherwise known as the Black Hat Hackers Conference.
Believe it or not, DEF CON is not the only official hackers’ conference held in the US; it just happens to be the biggest. You might wonder how these criminals manage to get away with it. Typically around 8,000 to 10,000 people attend this three day event, though not all of them are hackers, some of them are federal agents, but no surprise there. However officially entrance is by invitation only and the fee for the three days is $180.

According to some sources, the only way to avoid actually being hacked at the conference is to not attend. Recommendations include making sure that your Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are turned off for the duration; don’t even think about using credit cards; avoid public USB chargers for your phone as hackers are easily able to use them to access all the data on your smartphone; make sure that everything on your computer and mobile devices is backed up before you take them along; and if you want to take notes use a pen and paper to do so, far safer than any electronic form of note taking. In fact the message is that the only thing that can’t be hacked at DEF CON is your brain, and some of the delegates are even working on that.
Just the titles of some of the talks chill the blood. These include talks on how to clone a mobile phone remotely; how to hack driverless vehicles; how to hack into networked consumer devices; hacking into the ECUs of cars; using popular websites for nefarious purposes; taking control of military drones; and, appropriately for Las Vegas, how to trick a slot machine into believing you have inserted more money. This is just a very small sample of the literally hundreds of presentations.

One of the guest keynote speakers this year was Keith Alexander, the director of the NSA (US National Security Agency). He was there to defend the U.S. agency's surveillance programs, and despite some heckling he seemed to keep most of the audience on-side. Dressed in his military uniform (he is a four star general) he defended the agency’s role in monitoring foreign electronic communications, however he has been having a rough time from civil liberties groups ever since Edward Snowden, who once worked for the NSA, leaked many secrets regarding its surveillance programs.
Federal agents (apart from those that have been invited to speak) are officially banned from the conference, but no doubt they will still be there rubbing shoulders with the hackers. After all, they are all co-dependent. Without the criminals you wouldn’t need to police; and today’s successful hacker is likely to be tomorrow’s security consultant for a leading financial institution.

Despite the best efforts of DEF CON delegates the security experts remain one step ahead. The cloud is still secure given that the proper levels of protection are implemented. For instance Mimecast has developed a prize-winning secure email service that provides the best email security available in the market today. You can stay safe in cyberspace if you are willing to invest the effort.