Hanging with the Hackers of Defcon 18

NERRRRRDSSS!!! To my right, a group discussed how the conference’s electronic badges could be hacked. On the left? People mentally wrestled with donating $15 to charity in exchange for a stellar Mohawk. Down the hall, folks learned how to build a lie detector. And all around? Some of the smartest people I’d ever meet, talking, drinking, partying, playing spot-the-fed and doing more drinking at the Rivera last weekend for the 18th annual Def Con Hacking Conference.

The biggest misconception about Def Con? “That there’s hackers at the convention,” laughed a delightful man in bunny ears who was throwing plastic eggs near the pool. My friend NinJana picked up the egg to find a dollar inside. Everyone from attendees to speakers has an epic sense of humor, even though I could only understand about a fourth of the jokes.

“We’re mainstream now,” said Digital Ebola, who’s been attending the con since its seventh year. “It’s really popular to be a nerd and be a hacker now. … There’s a cultural shift in that we’re not criminals anymore.”

On the whole, though, attendees were wary of the press. (Blame Dateline NBC for trying to go undercover a few years ago and effin’ it up for the rest of us.) So instead I tried to understand artificial satellites and clever ways to use them; the faults in Facebook’s privacy and how hackers can help fix it; or virtual suicide—just wiping your social networking presence off the ’net.

Humans (i.e. the general admission crowd) agreed that using the Internet at Def Con wasn’t a wise idea because it is proudly known as the most hostile network on Earth. I decided to keep my iPhone off after learning about how creepy apps could be in the information they can inadvertently leak about you.

“For the most part it’s everyone who wants to nerd out with people who actually understand what they’re talking about,” said 6Q. With attendance growing significantly even from last year, the geeks aren’t going anywhere soon—except to a larger venue.@_defcon_ announced on Twitter after the closing ceremonies: “See you at the Rio in 2011!”

Originally published in Las Vegas Weekly.

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