Def Con Organizers Should Open a Dialogue with Government, Not Chase the Feds Away

Sue Marquette Poremba

Twitter is buzzing today with the news that federal agencies have been asked to stay away from this summer’s Def Con, an annual hacker convention that attracts hackers, security experts, and yes, representatives from the federal government. Def Con organizers posted the following on their blog:

When it comes to sharing and socializing with feds, recent revelations have made many in the community uncomfortable about this relationship. Therefore, I think it would be best for everyone involved if the feds call a "time-out" and not attend DEF CON this year.

This will give everybody time to think about how we got here, and what comes next.

I never had the chance to attend Def Con, so I believe Brian Krebs when he says that the relationship between hackers and the government likely was antagonistic in the early days but softened after 9/11. As Krebs pointed out:

Intelligence and law enforcement agencies have come to find the conference a reliably fertile and lucrative grounds for recruiting talent. Heck, things had improved so much by this time last year that the conference’s keynote was given by none other than Keith Alexander, the director of the National Security Agency.

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But this year, Def Con founder Jeff Moss said it would be best to give some time and distance between the hackers and the government while emotions from the Edward Snowden revelations are running high. Part of that emotional turmoil comes from Alexander’s comments last year, when he was asked about government snooping. Alexander denied the NSA being involved in any such action.

I think Moss is wrong in his decision to ask government representatives to stay home. Yes, tension may be high, but Def Con participants are going to miss out on an excellent opportunity to have a real dialogue about the Snowden leaks. The folks attending Def Con are as necessary to national cybersecurity as the federal government. There have already been too many impasses where private entities have been fighting federal cybersecurity legislation. Ignoring the potential for conversation is only going to increase our vulnerabilities, not make them go away.

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