Over the past week, Las Vegas, Nev. has been the destination of more than a few of the nation's best and brightest when it comes to the critical field of security research.
In other words, hackers have descended upon Sin City.
This may have indeed been, as AntiSec recently exclaimed, "the year of leaks and revolutions," and at least one of the well-known but well-disguised LulzSec personalities was among the crowd at DefCon -- and probably also at its more button-down pseudo-sibling, Black Hat.
GeoHotz employers Facebook had a team roaming both shows, daring (and paying) people to hack the social networking giant. "We try to only hire people who, when they're hanging out on Saturday night, are thinking about security," said Facebook's Chief Security Officer Joe Sullivan. "That's the people who are here right now, and that's why we want to be there."
Both Facebook and Microsoft (which is focusing on "the most effective ways to prevent the use of memory safety vulnerabilities") are among the high-profile companies who recognize the value of a good hack -- provided they find out about it before the rest of the world does.
Facebook's minimum "bug bounty" is $500, and they claim that they've paid out over $3,000 already. Microsoft is setting their "Blue Hat" bounty budget at a cool $200,000, as announced at the Black Hat conference, which has more than subtle differences from DefCon.
In an almost caricatured version of the iconic "I'm a PC" advertisements, the Microsoft announcement was delivered and received by typical Black Hat attendees: if not suits, then at least business causal for most of the 8,500 at the show.
Still, there was plenty of fun to be had at Black Hat, whether with a $6,000 DIY hacker drone spyplane or the smartphone-powered remote breach of a Subaru Outback. In the traditional Pwnie Awards, the Stuxnet worm that took down Iranian nuclear reactors beat out LulzSec, which was privately thought to be a case of the conventioneers patting themselves on the back (although nobody was taking credit then and there). Meanwhile, there was also very little hesitation to give Sony the business for the most widely publicized network breach in history.
Meanwhile, DefCon sported a more colorful mix of people, and the (no doubt numerous) Federal agents in attendance probably had sense enough to unbutton their shirts and go a few days between shaves. Hackers were more than willing to show off in the traditional Capture the Flag corporate breach contest, but the Feds were surprisingly good sports with a "Spot the Fed" contest -- and on this trial, the hackers fared less well (about a 50% success rate).
One cannot say that DefCon ignored tradition; Steven Levy, whose book "Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution" was probably published before many of the DefCon attendees were born, got a warm response with a mention of interviewees like Richard Stallman, and laughed together with them at the Angelina Jolie film that played after he spoke.
James Lee Phillips is a Senior Writer & Research Analyst for IBG.com. With offices in Dallas, Las Vegas, and New York, & London, IBG is quickly becoming the leading expert in Internet Marketing, Local Search, SEO, Web site Development and Reputation Management. More information can be found at www.ibg.com. Craig Morganson Online born and raised in Connecticut and then migrated to Nevada in 1980. He is a competitive athlete, musician and successful entrepreneur.