It’s Time For DEF CON: Where’s Your Computer Security Expert?

By James R. Lint
Faculty Member, School of Business, American Military University

It is that time of the year. Hackers, corporate computer security personnel, network penetration testers and federal government computer security professionals are going to Las Vegas for DEF CON 24, running from August 4-7.

Origins of DEF CON

DEF CON is one of the oldest and largest hacker conferences. It started out as a 1992 Las Vegas party for a friend of DEF CON’s founder, Jeff Moss. The event was so popular that people wanted to hold it again.

There are many discussions about how the name DEF CON originated. One story says that the name came from the Matthew Broderick movie “WarGames,” featuring a teen hacker. The movie used the military term “DEFCON,” meaning “Defense Condition.” The other story is that the “DEF” is from the #3 key on a phone. The “CON” came from “conventions.”

Quirks of DEF CON

DEF CON does not allow the use of credit cards to pay or pre-register. This rule is to appease the concerns of the registrants. In the beginning, there were individuals who were very talented with phones and computers, and maybe some of their skills were unlawful. One of the registrants’ worst fears was that the FBI would collect the information on their registration forms and use that information to arrest people.

But the lack of registration caused consternation for other participants. In later years, many federal employees and investigators wanted to learn about the techniques of the hacker community. The lack of a registration receipt made it difficult for them to be reimbursed for attending DEF CON.

DEF CON Appeal’s to Computer Security Experts

DEF CON is a great learning and networking place for everyone. As a retired federal employee, I look forward to DEF CON to see my federal friends.

DEF CON is a place to discover out-of-the-box thinkers who may have ideas for computer security that have not been explored. For example, NSA General Keith Alexander spoke at DEF CON in 2013. He planted the seed in the hacker community that they should explore working for the U.S. government.

Many government employees support this hiring effort. As a nation, it is critical for us to grow this type of talent in computer security. Those future employees will work with large budgets and impact international operations.

DEF CON is also a target-rich recruiting event. The FBI will have a booth at DEF CON, staffed by FBI professionals assigned to the FBI Cyber Division. They will also provide special 10-15 minute presentations on FBI cyber capabilities and recruitment efforts.

Furthermore, this conference appeals to former military service members transitioning to corporate computer security. They want to learn the newest computer security defense measures and see the corporate security programs that are offered.

DEF CON Affects the Future of Computer Security

My first DEF CON was in 2005. Since then, the computer security industry has seen computer whiz kids graduate from college and create excellent computer penetration testing companies.

These network penetration testers, also known as white hat hackers, test computer systems for high pay. Many high-security companies are required to have penetration testing every six to 12 months to maintain their insurance. This is the evolution of “evil hackers” to well-paid corporate penetration testers.

DEF CON 24 is the birth of new ideas and new connections. Ideas and conversations held while participants are standing in line or in hallways will inspire new companies, new techniques, and maybe new industries.

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