DEFCON Hacking Conference Features Diversity as Its Mission

Published with Permission by:
Lint, James R., “DEFCON Hacking Conference Features Diversity as Its Mission”, In Cyber Defense, 3 August 2017, Web,

By James Lint
Faculty Member, School of Business, American Military University
Senior Editor for
 In Cyber Defense and Contributor, In Homeland Security

The DEFCON Hacker Conference in Las Vegas celebrated its 25th anniversary on July 28-30, 2017, in Las Vegas.

People keep coming back to DEFCON because of the unique quality of the conference presentations. They are often on topics that most organizations would not want to publicize: computer hacking, robots hacking safes, implanting passwords and cognitive memory. The speakers are all experienced in the hobby and profession of hacking into computers.

Yesterday’s ‘Hackers’ Are Today’s ‘Security Researchers’

DEFCON attendees who stroll DEFCON’s villages for information and new security ideas are sometimes called “hackers.” Many of the old “hackers” now have titles like information technology “researchers” as industries fight to hire those who can think outside the box and discover computer vulnerabilities before they become problems. Brilliant people discovering problems to be solved are important, but how they label their “hobby” is no longer important.

Multiple ‘Villages’ Are Devoted to Diverse Topics

DEFCON’s mission of diversity is fostered by “villages,” a series of conference areas devoted to specific topics. For example, the Biohacking Village website describes it as “a biotechnology conference focused on breakthrough DIY, grinder, transhumanist, medical technology, and information security along with its related communities in the open source ecosystem.”

Cars Hacking Village Offers Information to Correct Auto Industry Vulnerabilities

The Car Hacking Village, now in its third year at DEFCON, has been helpful to the auto industry in exposing vulnerabilities before a crisis. The wireless interfaces built into today’s vehicles make them virtual computers on wheels.

Computers have been hacked for decades, so why would anyone expect cars not to be hacked? One of the talks this year, “That’s no car. It’s a network!” explained how auto manufacturers try to discover software and network vulnerabilities from improperly written software code before there is a fatal crash.

Crypto and Privacy Village Provides Platform for Discussing Privacy Maintenance

The Crypto and Privacy Village provides little information online, which says something about its focus. One of the scheduled talks, “Privacy is Not An Add-On: Designing for Privacy from the Ground Up,” described different ways to maintain privacy using a variety of tools.

Hardware Hacking Village Discusses VoIP, Reverse Engineering and Sustainability

Discussions in the Hardware Hacking Village ranged from VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) phone hacking to reverse engineering. An unusual workshop explained component desoldering and recovery, which are useful techniques as landfills are filling up with technology waste.

Internet of Things (IoT) Village Promotes Security Advancements

According to its website , “IoT Village delivers advocacy for and expertise on security advancements in Internet of Things devices.” This is one area that has many people in business worried about security being an afterthought. Over the years, the DEFCON IoT Village has displayed and discovered 113 new vulnerabilities in connected devices that were reported to manufacturers so they can make their devices safer and more secure.

Packet Hacking Village Pinpoints Security Vulnerabilities

The Packet Hacking Village featured talks and hands-on workshops. It also had an interesting presentation schedule that included its “Wall of Sheep” display, highlighting vulnerable systems that are ready “for slaughter.” Visitors were able to have a free security assessment to ensure that their system was not listed on the Wall of Sheep.

Other Villages Offer Additional Topics of Interest to Attendees

Other villages included social engineering (also known as human hacking), wireless, lock picking, Industrial Controls Systems and the Packet Hacking Village. To show the ability of DEFCON to evolve and stay current, there was even a Voting Machine Hacking Village.

Multiple Villages Provide a Variety of Information for Hackers and Security Researchers

The multitude of villages helps DEFCON to improve each year. These improvements provide both hackers and security researchers with learning and growth areas, while they exchange topics and new tools to improve the security of our networks and cyber programs. As the skills of DEFCON attendees improve, they will be better able to handle current and emerging cyber threats.

About the Author

James R. Lint recently retired as the (GG-15) civilian director for intelligence and security, G2, U.S. Army Communications Electronics Command. He is an adjunct professor at AMU. James has been involved in cyberespionage events from just after the turn of the century in Korea supporting 1st Signal Brigade to the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis as the first government cyber intelligence analyst. He has 38 years of experience in military intelligence with the U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Army, government contracting and civil service.

Additionally, James started the Lint Center for National Security Studies, a nonprofit charity that recently awarded its 45th scholarship for national security students and professionals. James was also elected as the 2015 national vice president for the Military Intelligence Corps Association. He has also served in the Department of Energy’s S&S Security Office after his active military career in the Marine Corps for seven years and 14 years in the Army. His military assignments include South Korea, Germany and Cuba, in addition to numerous CONUS locations. In 2017, he was appointed to the position of Adjutant for The American Legion, China Post 1. James has authored a book published in 2013, “Leadership and Management Lessons Learned,” a book published in 2016 “8 Eyes on Korea, A Travel Perspective of Seoul, Korea,” and a new book in 2017 Secrets to Getting a Federal Government Job.”

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