Cybersecurity

Hacker Conference to Feds: Stay Home

Hackers attend the DefCon conference 2011 in Las Vegas.

Hackers attend the DefCon conference 2011 in Las Vegas. // Isaac Brekken/AP File Photo

An annual hacker conclave in Las Vegas known as DEF CON in recent years had let the likes of the National Security Administration director mingle with attendees to recruit U.S. cyber warriors -- but not this year.

"FEDS, WE NEED SOME TIME APART," reads the homepage of the global conference to be held Aug. 1-4.  For more than 20 years DEF CON has sought to advance coding and broker trust among cybersecurity professionals, black hat hackers, researchers and authorities, according to organizers. 

But "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," conference founder Jeff Moss, AKA "The Dark Tangent," wrote on the conference's website. Moss himself has been cooperative with the government, co-chairing a Homeland Security Department task force on cyber skills.  

His call to give "everybody time to think about how we got here, and what comes next" is an apparent reference to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden's disclosures that feds are amassing Internet and call records of individuals overseas, as well as millions of Americans' phone logs and some incidental Web communications.

Ever since the U.S. government acknowledged the ongoing tactics, programmers stateside and abroad, through online forums, have been questioning the intentions of federal hackers at the NSA, FBI and Cyber Command.

At the same time, some underground hackers and government officials have been cooperating on cases. Hacker activists uneasy with alleged plans to disrupt industrial systems, for instance, or interested in public service join the federal government, according to some ex-hacktivists. 

Federal officials are especially interested in teaching young people to use their computer savvy for good instead of evil at events such as DEF CON. In 2011, organizers held the first-ever DEF CON Kids hacker conference and NSA Director Keith Alexander spoke there last year. 

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