Hackers build mobile phone network for Def Con

Jul 29, 2012 by Glenn Chapman

A custom mobile phone network came to life in the middle of Def Con as hackers showed off their technology skills in tribute to the infamous gathering's elite "ninjas."

A Def Con team bought a van and configured a "Ninja Tel" cellular phone network to pay homage to longtime hackers who have kept the spirit of the event alive and, admittedly, just to do something "over the top."

"People don't realize how much hacking has changed," said Def Con veteran Dan Kaminsky, known for discovering a perilous Internet bug that bears his name.

"This used to be a sub-culture of people who bonded over their fascination with technology," he continued. "Now, hacking has gone mainstream.

"A mom hacks her kid's grade at school and gets called out for hacking."

The Ninja Tel team built 650 handsets powered by -backed software tailored to synch with the exclusive Ninja Tel network.

The smartphones were handed out as "badges" to members of the Def Con community whose hacker accomplishments or whose legacies in the 20-year-old annual gathering have earned them "ninja" status.

"The ninjas represent a group of phenomenally intelligent people who share a common interest and passion," said John Hering, head of Lookout startup and part of the team behind Ninja Tel.

"They are a center point for the community at Def Con; it is a very special thing."

Ninja Tel mobile phones only work within range of the van, which is parked in the middle of the Def Con event that continues through Sunday in the Rio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

Contact numbers for anyone with a Ninja Tel phone are automatically listed in handsets, which also allow callers to playfully battle one another with virtual karate moves in a spin on the child's game Rock, Paper, Scissor.

Ninja Tel has a geek "Easter egg" -- the woman who was the original voice for recorded AT&T information messages during landline days of decades gone by did the voice-overs for the hacker network.

"It really is a throwback to a more simplistic era of telephony," Hering said. "It looks like the Yellow Pages, but it is a really sophisticated Android operating system."

Ninja Tel phones could also be used to signal vending machines scattered about Def Con to pop out free beer or soda using wireless technology at close range.

"We've made it hackable from the ground up," Hering said of the .

"You can build your own apps and customize the device to do some more interesting things."

The team at Ninja Tel declined to reveal how much was spent on the project, which was pulled off with the backing of Facebook, Zynga, Qualcomm, and Lookout.

"It's a pretty ambitious project to build your own Telco, effectively, and your own device from scratch," Hering said.

The hacker mobile network came as the sun set on a Def Con tradition, the exclusive annual party hosted by Ninja Networks.

Ninja Networks is rooted in the original hackers whose time at Def Con dates back decades to when it was an intimate assembly of technology renegades.

Kaminsky smiled at the notion of Ninja Tel, seeing it as hackers "social engineering" major companies into buying them a .

"There are many definitions of the word 'hacking,' " Kaminsky said. "This is hacking on a corporate scale."

Explore further: 5G mobile networks will support an internet that's so good you can feel it

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Computer hackers and defenders mix in Las Vegas

Jul 24, 2012

Rival factions from the Internet security world will mix warily this week at a pair of Las Vegas conferences gathering computer security experts and software savants who make sport of hacking them.

US spy master courts top hackers at Def Con

Jul 27, 2012

US spy master Keith Alexander on Friday courted hackers at an infamous Def Con gathering rife with software tricksters wary of police and ferociously protective of privacy.

Game Review: 'Ninja Gaiden 3' a letdown for fans

Mar 29, 2012

(AP) -- If you were playing video games in the 1980s, you probably remember flinging your Nintendo controller across the room after the original "Ninja Gaiden" sliced and diced you into mouth-frothing aggravation.

Smartphones tempting new targets for hackers

Jul 30, 2010

Software security experts warn that mobile phones are tempting targets for hackers in a world where people eagerly invite strange applications onto handsets packed with personal data.

Recommended for you

New frontier in error-correcting codes

56 minutes ago

Error-correcting codes are one of the glories of the information age: They're what guarantee the flawless transmission of digital information over the airwaves or through copper wire, even in the presence of the corrupting ...

The New York Times to cut 100 newsroom jobs

2 hours ago

The New York Times Co. says it is cutting about 100 newsroom jobs through buyouts and layoffs in an effort to trim costs and focus more on its digital efforts.

Minimally invasive surgery with hydraulic assistance

3 hours ago

Endoscopic surgery requires great manual dexterity on the part of the operating surgeon. Future endoscopic instruments equipped with a hydraulic control system will provide added support during minimally ...

Engineering new vehicle powertrains

4 hours ago

Car engines – whether driven by gasoline, diesel, or electricity – waste an abundance of energy. Researchers are working on ways to stem this wastefulness. Ultramodern test facilities are helping them ...

User comments : 0