Hackers school next generation at DEFCON Kids

Jun 26, 2011 by Glenn Chapman
This file illustration photo shows hackers visiting the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. DEFCON hackers will share their skills with the next generation at a first-ever children's version of the infamous gathering of software renegades, lock pickers and social engineers.

DEFCON hackers will share their skills with the next generation at a first-ever children's version of the infamous gathering of software renegades, lock pickers and social engineers.

DEFCON will take place in Las Vegas on August 6-7 during the 19th annual DEFCON started by hackers such as "Dark Tangent" when they were young computer coding or hardware cracking rebels.

"Hackers are getting older and having kids," said Joe Grand, a DEFCON veteran known as 'Kingpin' who has wowed attendees with event badges made of circuit boards that could be hacked to serve as radios or other gadgets.

"It is interesting to follow the process of other people's backup units; how they are coming along."

Grand, 35, recalling teen years in which his electronics skills got him benefits such as free telephone calls and trouble like an arrest for "computer-related stuff" he didn't detail.

"I was scared straight and there was nobody there to guide me straight," said Grand, who will teach hardware hacking at DEFCON Kids, which is open to children ages eight to 16.

"It feels nice to have an opportunity to be a mentor for kids who might be outcasts at school for having skills that aren't cool; that other kids don't understand."

Grand's two-and-a-half-year-old son has his own work space in dad's lab where he excitedly looks forward to being old enough to solder circuits.

A hacker conference for children is controversial even in the DEFCON community.

Prime targets for criticism include lock picking and social engineering, the art of manipulating people into revealing sensitive information.

"Everyone is up in arms that we are going to teach kids to be evil, but that is not the case," said Chris Hadnagy, who trains companies to guard against slick-talking hackers and runs the website social-engineer.org.

"Think critically, think objectively -- that is what this industry teaches people," continued Hadnagy, a DEFCON Kids mentor.

"The Internet is a of predators, and not falling for those things is a skill I want my kids to have when someone is trying to manipulate them into something; whether it is peer pressure or a malicious adult."

Hadnagy and others behind DEFCON Kids were adamant that in a world where children are surrounded by technology it is smart to provide guidance and a place where they can safely, and legally, test hacker skills.

Hadnagy, whose book : The Art of Human Hacking came out this year, tailored a "Capture the Flag" game for the event.

The game will include deciphering clues, picking locks, and reading body language and subtle facial expressions.

"Kids are great at it," said Hadnagy. "This gives them a chance to grow into what we are now, the ones who keep companies secure."

Since DEFCON debuted in 1993, many once-nefarious attendees have become computer security good guys bent on defending companies and homes against cyberattacks.

Government agents once flushed out in a game called "Spot the Fed" at the world's largest hacker gathering are now welcomed on panels such as "Meet the Fed." National police agencies recruit talent at DEFCON.

DEFCON founder Jeff Moss, whose hacker handle is Dark Tangent, is on a White House homeland defense council and heads security for the agency in charge of Internet addresses.

The US National Security Agency is to bring a museum-quality cryptography exhibit this year.

"While DEFCON has a bit of edgy counter-culture to it, there is a need to harness, direct and encourage children," said Christofer Hoff, a hacker dad and a lock picking tutor at DEFCON Kids. "It is a natural complement."

Hoff has taught his daughters to pick locks and launched HacKids camps in the United States about a year ago after peers in the security industry wondered how to hook children on science and math skills.

"I got to learn about computers and do fun stuff like trebuchets and marshmallow gun fights," said his 10-year-old daughter and hackid.org camp attendee Chloe. "It was really cool to figure out how things work."

Hoff's girls will be volunteer "goons" helping at DEFCON Kids, where his session was renamed "The physics of locks."

"When we talk about teaching kids it is about the creative, sometimes interesting out-of-the-box embracing of science, math, computers...to get their creative juices flowing," Hoff said.

"If you teach a kid how to light a match, does it mean he will turn into an arsonist?" he asked rhetorically. "Probably not, but he will learn how not to burn himself."

Information was online at defconkids.org.

Explore further: Brazil passes trailblazing Internet privacy law

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Internet warriors hone skills at Black Hat - DefCon

Jul 26, 2010

Internet warriors are gathering this week to explore chinks in the armors of computers, bank teller machines, mobile phones, power grids, and other "smart" devices intrinsic to modern life.

Hackers crack high-tech locks

Aug 01, 2010

Security maverick Marc Tobias showed hackers on Saturday how simple it is to defeat some of the world's top high-tech locks.

Recommended for you

Brazil enacts Internet 'Bill of Rights'

2 hours ago

Brazil's president signed into law on Wednesday a "Bill of Rights" for the digital age that aims to protect online privacy and promote the Internet as a public utility by barring telecommunications companies ...

Brazil passes trailblazing Internet privacy law

Apr 23, 2014

Brazil's Congress on Tuesday passed comprehensive legislation on Internet privacy in what some have likened to a web-user's bill of rights, after stunning revelations its own president was targeted by US ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Telekinetic
1 / 5 (2) Jun 26, 2011
"A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear hacking tools shall not be infringed."
sender
not rated yet Jun 26, 2011
Instill fear into children till neither radical means them well, the divided are conquered.

More news stories

SK Hynix posts Q1 surge in net profit

South Korea's SK Hynix Inc said Thursday its first-quarter net profit surged nearly 350 percent from the previous year on a spike in sales of PC memory chips.

FCC to propose pay-for-priority Internet standards

The Federal Communications Commission is set to propose new open Internet rules that would allow content companies to pay for faster delivery over the so-called "last mile" connection to people's homes.

Brazil enacts Internet 'Bill of Rights'

Brazil's president signed into law on Wednesday a "Bill of Rights" for the digital age that aims to protect online privacy and promote the Internet as a public utility by barring telecommunications companies ...

Is nuclear power the only way to avoid geoengineering?

"I think one can argue that if we were to follow a strong nuclear energy pathway—as well as doing everything else that we can—then we can solve the climate problem without doing geoengineering." So says Tom Wigley, one ...

When things get glassy, molecules go fractal

Colorful church windows, beads on a necklace and many of our favorite plastics share something in common—they all belong to a state of matter known as glasses. School children learn the difference between ...

FDA proposes first regulations for e-cigarettes

The federal government wants to prohibit sales of electronic cigarettes to minors and require approval for new products and health warning labels under regulations being proposed by the Food and Drug Administration.