What to Expect at DEFCON 2016

What do hackers do at a conference like DEFCON?

Eric Escobar
4-minute read
Episode #231

History of DEFCON

There is a rich history of DEFCON, which dates back over two decades of conferences. This will be 24th DEFCON and, with over 20,000 attendees expected for this year, it has exploded from its humble beginnings from way back in 1993. The very first DEFCON was actually a going away party thrown in Vegas by Jeff Moss. However, the friend he was throwing it for had left early, so instead Jeff decided to open the invitation up to his friends and roughly 100 people attended.  

From there, DEFCON expanded to the size that it is today, attracting hackers, educators, federal agents, geeks, and people with an interest in computers. The name DEFCON comes from the military term DEFCON, which is short for “Defense Readiness Condition” and was made popular by the movie War Games (I highly recommend it if you haven't seen it before).

Now DEFCON boasts a crazy amount of people all from completely different backgrounds, covering an even larger spread of topics and events. It’s unique from many other conferences in that there is no way to pre-register for the conference—you have to just bring cash to attend. This is another huge theme of DEFCON and that is people ditch their credit cards, cell phones, and most other electronics before walking into the conference.

In fact, most attendees (myself included) use ‘burner’ or disposable phones at the conference as many of the presentations are about hacking cell phone traffic and cell phones. This way if your phone gets hacked, then you don’t have to worry about anything!

What Happens at DEFCON?

The conference covers hacking of all kinds—from cars to planes to traditional computers to social engineering, internet of things, and even medical equipment. Originally the conference only has presentations where hackers would speak about different techniques, targets, and skills. Now there are hacking competitions, workshops, and villages for specific skill sets.

The workshops are a great place for aspiring hackers to hone their skills and get hands on with different types of hacking both from an offensive and defensive role.

Can Attendees Get in Trouble?

Whenever I talk about a hacker conference, I’m confronted with the same question over and over: “If everyone knows about this hacking conference, how are all of the hackers not rounded up and arrested right then and there?” Well that’s because this conference brings awareness to security issues, and even has many government officials, as well as federal agents in attendance to learn too.

It’s important to note that not all hackers wear black hoodies, live in basements, and commit cyber-crime. Hackers come in all forms but there are most definitely hackers that find problems and report them before bad hackers have a time to exploit them.


About the Author

Eric Escobar

Tech Talker demystifies technology and cutting edge devices so that even the most tech illiterate can understand what's going on with their computer or gadget — and what to do when something goes wrong.