Gen. Alexander will not be fair game for fed-spotting contest

The hacker community is the ultimate moral gray.  While many hackers engage in malicious activities on a daily basis, and routinely violate U.S. local, state, and federal laws, they also have been vital over the last two decades in protecting consumers.  In the 1990s corporations recklessly stored data using poor practices which threatened to allow personal financial information to fall into the hands of truly malicious individuals.  

Hackers effectively forced the corporate world to protect their users.  Sometimes it was enough to show companies via discrete disclosure.  Other times hackers looked to force the hand of entities unwilling to protect their users via more severe methods, such as full disclosure of published intrusions.

I. Gen. Alexander Pitches Common Ground to Hackers

On the eve of the twentieth year of DEF CON, one of the largest and most popular hacker conferences, a relationship as uneasy as that between hackers and corporations is being highlighted -- the relationship between hackers and the government.

As previously mentioned, hackers tend to break a lot of laws (not all hackers, mind you, but most) most operate in a principled fashion.  And hackers are crucial assets to the U.S. government as it faces cyber-belligerence from operatives in competitive and/or hostile nation states -- most notably, China.  

After all, if teenagers can take down the public homepage of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, it stands to reason that an army of trained black hats from China could do all nature of harm such as stock market manipulation and theft of classified weapons designs.

In the spirit of uneasy cooperation between the hacker community and the government, DEF CON founder Jeff Moss has invited General Keith Alexander -- the head of the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) and U.S. Cyber Command -- to be the 12:00 Track 1 slot.

General Keith Alexander
General Keith Alexander will add some color to DEF CON. [Image Source: DefenseTech]

General Alexander is an intriguing figure who has been pivotal in drafting the U.S.'s rules on when it can hack foreign governments.  He has also promoted inter-agency information sharing for fighting terrorism, cyber-threats, and common crime.

His talk is entitled "Shared Values, Shared Responsibility".  It will reportedly look to offer common ground between the U.S. Intelligence Community's objectives and those of the hacker community.  General Alexander says the feds and the hackers both view the internet as a positive force, both value privacy (or so he says), and both (typically) look to protect users from malicious criminals, albeit using decidedly different methodology.

If all goes well, the General's talk could engender some support from the hacker community, which could help the feds' recruiting elements.

II. DEF CON Founder Jeff Moss Shows You Can be a Fed and Still Have Cred

"The Dark Tangent" aka. Jeff Moss is a hacker who has seen both sides of the aisle.  Despite his history as an underground phone phreaker, The Dark Tangent secured a prestigious position in information security at accounting firm Ernst & Young, LLP.  He left Ernst & Young to found DEF CON.

Jeff Moss
The Dark Tangent, aka. Jeff Moss [Image Source: ABC News]

In recent years he has also collaborated with the government, serving as a member of President Obama's Department of Homeland Security’s Advisory Council and, more recently, as the head of non-profit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).  The ICANN role is extremely prestigious, considering that the entire global internet relies on the firm's management of internet naming and numbering.

Despite his close ties to the federal government, The Dark Tangent keeps his tongue firmly planted in cheek, masterminding DEF CON events such as "Spot the Fed".  As it is common for undercover agents to attend the conference to keep an eye on the attendees "projects" or look to covertly recruit hackers, Mr. Moss created a contest where people who successfully identify an attending agent (as judged by the crowd of hackers in the vicinity) get a coveted T-shirt reading, "I Spotted The Fed at DEF CON".

DEF CON I spotted the Fed
Gen. Alexander is off limits for the fed-spotting contest. [Image Source: Pop. Sci]

No T-shirts will be awarded for spotting General Alexander, however -- after all, good social engineers solve hard problems not easy ones.

DEF CON is a four-day event running from July 26 to 29.  In the spirit of secure transactions, there are no attendee reservations.  Admission is a one-time fee of $200 USD in semi-untraceable cash, which gains you entrance to the entire week of festivities.

Source: DEF CON

"And boy have we patented it!" -- Steve Jobs, Macworld 2007

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