Ouch! NSA chief dissed at Black Hat… Get your ‘I am not the Fed!’ temporary tattoo
LAS VEGAS — What a difference a year makes. Last year Keith Alexander became the first NSA director to give a keynote at hacker conference Defcon the events’ 20-year history. He urged attendees to help the government on cyber security protection and denied that the government was keeping tabs on citizens’ communications, saying their focus is “foreign intelligence.”
Today, Alexander was heckled as he gave a keynote speech (video) at the opening of the Black Hat conference, the corporate counterpart to Defcon, which starts on Friday, August 2. (Forbes has a great article about it here.) Addressing the PRISM controversy, Alexander said the program had thwarted terrorists and was focused, not broad. Attendees weren’t convinced and interrupted him, shouting “Bullshit,” “I don’t trust you,” “You lied to Congress. Why should we believe you”re not lying to us?” and “Read the Constitution.”
Quite an exciting start to the conferences and an indication of how distrustful security professionals and the hacker community in general is of the government’s claims about its surveillance programs. Defcon founder Jeff Moss had made his sentiments clear in a blog post on the Defcon site a few weeks ago asking the feds to not attend Defcon this year. “Our community operates in the spirit of openness, verified trust and mutual respect. When it comes to sharing and socializing with feds, recent revelations have made many in the community uncomfortable about this relationship,” Moss wrote. He said he wanted the feds to call a “time out” and not attend Defcon this year.
That got me to thinking about the fun “Spot the Fed” contests in the ‘90s where feds tried to fly under the radar at Defcon but usually could be outed by their musculature, crewcuts and baseball style caps. Attendees would point out a suspected fed, who would then be queried “What’s My Line” style about his job and people would guess which agency he worked for. The hacker who spotted him would get a t-shirt saying “I spotted the fed!” and the fed would get a shirt saying “I am the fed!”
So, I thought it would be fun to create temporary tattoos to give out at Defcon this year that say “I am not the fed!” given the recent events. I’ll be handing them out at Black Hat and Defcon, so hit me up for one if you see me. And if you decide to do anything fun with them we are using the Twitter hashtag #iamnotthefed.
I’m also encouraging security professionals to participate in a survey I created (with help from some veteran hackers in the community) to get a sense of what hackers think about their work, their play and events that have unfolded, like the NSA surveillance controversy.
In the meantime, remember to watch your data and devices at the shows or you’ll end up on the notorious Wall of Sheep. For specific tips, read the blog post by Wolfgang Kandek, CTO of Bateman Group client Qualys: “Going to Las Vegas? Skip the Wi-Fi, and maybe the apps.” (Qualys researchersalso are also giving talks at the shows, and at B-Sides: “” and “CSRF: Still armed and dangerous.”
Finally, the hacking community converging at Black Hat and Defcon will also be remembering the life of renowned hacker Barnaby Jack, who died suddenly last week. He was scheduled to present dramatic research on hacking pacemakers and defibrillators.