The Def Con Hacking Conference is attended, for the most part,by hackers and specialists who believe in the freedom of technology and that the U.S. government is working to limit everyone’s digital liberties. The head of the US government’s secretive National Security Agency took the unprecedented step on Friday of asking a convention of unruly hackers to join him in an effort to make the Internet more secure. In a speech to the 20th annual Def Con gathering in Las Vegas, four-star General Keith Alexander stressed common ground between US officials and hackers, telling them privacy must be preserved and that they could help by developing new tools.
“You’re going to have to come in and help us,” Alexander told thousands of attendees. Alexander rarely gives speeches of any kind, let alone to a crowd of hackers, professional defenders, and researchers whose discoveries of software and hardware vulnerabilities are used by both sides. Conference founder Jeff Moss, known in hacking circles as The Dark Tangent, told the conference that he had invited Alexander partly because he wanted them to learn about one of the world’s “spookiest, least known” organisations.
Attendees were respectful and gave modest applause, though several said they were concerned about secret government snooping and the failure of authorities thus far to stop foreign-backed attacks. “Americans pay taxes so that federal agencies can defend them,” said a researcher who asked not to be named. “I see it as a hard sell asking a business entity to spend money for the common good.
Audience reaction was varied.
Many participants said if federal officials want help from hackers they should stop arresting them.