Def Con, the world's largest hacking conference, has a long history of being a kind of "neutral zone" where computer miscreants casually mingle with federal agents — oftentimes unwittingly. But founder Jeff Moss (aka "The Dark Tangent") took to Def Con's website yesterday to ask that feds avoid the conference this year, saying that recent events involving government surveillance programs have created high tensions in the hacker community.
"recent revelations have made many in the community uncomfortable about this relationship."
"When it comes to sharing and socializing with feds, recent revelations have made many in the community uncomfortable about this relationship," wrote Moss, who also works as an advisor to the Department of Homeland Security. "Therefore, I think it would be best for everyone involved if the feds call a "time-out" and not attend Def Con this year."
Since there's no registration and entry is paid with cash at the door, feds have always had a significant presence throughout the event's 20-year history, both officially and unofficially — one of its oldest traditions is a "Spot the Fed" contest devised as a playful jab at the various spooks milling around unannounced. But Moss' request is an interesting first, given that last year the conference hosted a keynote from NSA director General Keith Alexander, whose silver-tongued recruitment efforts were met with a lukewarm reception.
Members of Congress say that intelligence officials have given misleading answers to questions about NSA surveillance programs, including one that was posed to Alexander on the Def Con stage. This year Alexander is keynoting Black Hat, Def Con's more suit-and-tie sister conference which takes place a week earlier inside another Vegas casino-hotel. Moss' request probably won't have much effect on whether federal agents choose to attend Def Con, but he seems to frame it as a way to avoid any unpleasantness, saying he wants to give everyone "time to think about how we got here, and what comes next."