Last year, after the leaks from National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden were made public, the United States government and DEF CON, the nation’s oldest hacker conference, had severed ties, at least temporarily. This year, however, the relationship is patched up, and the conference, held annually in Las Vegas, is announcing two new partnerships with the U.S. government.
With DEF CON 22 arriving in August, the Federal Trade Commission has announced a contest, which will be run at the convention, made to build a “honeypot” to lure illegal robocallers. Robocallers can be collected using a honeypot, an information system designed to attract these criminals, which will help experts and law enforcement agencies find ways to combat them.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency announced this month that it would host the finale of its “Grand Cyber Challenge” at DEF CON in 2016. Over the span of a two-year, “capture the flag”-style competition, teams will build machines that can expose their own flaws and patch them automatically — a self-hacking computer, essentially.
Such technology, if developed, could save security agencies millions of dollars from spending to protect against cyberthreats.
DARPA’s contest offers a $2 million cash prize to the winner, $1 million for second place, and $750,000 for third place.
What started out as an independent conference for computer hackers back in 1993 has turned into a recruitment event for the federal government. In 1999, the conference hosted a “Meet the Fed” panel, and federal security agencies began to see the conference as a place to find new talent, especially as the government’s lack of expertise in cybersecurity began to show.
Today, the event’s founder, Jeff Moss, is a frequent collaborator with the feds. In 2009, he was appointed to the Department of Homeland Security’s Advisory Counsel; in 2012, Gen. Keith B. Alexander, then NSA-chief, was the keynote speaker at DEF CON.
Military computers are often protected with a variety of cybersecurity measures, and in combat zones, they use tough external protections to keep them safe.
Last year, Moss called for a “time-out” to prevent feds from attending DEF CON. Although some participants may be wary of the return after Snowden, the government will be eager to return, thanks to the new contests and an approval in January 2013 by the Pentagon to increase U.S. Cyber Command from 900 to 4,900 personnel.