Modern field guide to security and privacy

Hackers set to infiltrate New York film festival

Why DEF CON, one of the world's premiere hacker conferences, is setting up shop at one of the nation's top film festivals.

Steve Marcus/Reuters/File
In August 2015, Jeff Moss, founder of the DEF CON hacker conference, spoke during Black Hat, another gathering for security researchers that Mr. Moss started.

On Friday, DEF CON will begin "Hacked," its second annual official program as part of New York City’s Tribeca Film Festival.

And Jeff Moss, founder of DEF CON, is the first to admit that bringing one of the world's top hacker conferences to one of the nation's top film festivals might seem like a random mishmash of very separate cultures.

"It was important that it be more than just hackers griping about how they are portrayed in movies," said Mr. Moss, echoing a common complaint among cybersecurity professionals that Hollywood often makes hacking look effortless.

But, he said, bringing together security researchers with filmmakers could help both communities better understand each other. "Creative people appreciate creativity in others, especially when that it’s so different than their own," he said.

Though it's at Tribeca, "Hacked" is unquestionably a DEF CON event. Regulars of the annual Las Vegas-based hacker conference will notice many faces and elements of the original DEF CON. Moss will be in attendance to moderate a panel with the cast and writer of the USA Network’s hacker TV drama "Mr. Robot." 

The show (an event sponsor) earned kudos within the information security community by mixing tech accuracy and nuanced characterization of hackers. Tribeca will also feature hands-on hacker training – known as villages at DEF CON – for beginners as well as experts that will be staffed by some of the convention's veteran volunteers.

"Some volunteers were on the fence before they were sure that this was a legit, worthwhile thing, and not just a dog and pony show with DEF CON's name on it," said Deviant Ollam, who manages the Las Vegas lock-picking village, and now the New York one as well. "This isn’t going to be like the airport Chili’s version of DEF CON."

Other villages will include privacy, hardware hacking and biohacking. 

If "Hacked" takes off, do not be surprised to see DEF CON branch out to other conferences, said Moss. Its creator says the event's organizers are always interested in expanding their reach when the right opportunity comes along. "DEF CON at NASA? That would be awesome," joked Moss.

"InfoSec is an echo chamber," he continued. "We have been talking to each other for 20 years and nothing has changed. The real challenge is to start talking with other people – whether that’s Tribeca or a meat packing conference."

Correction: This story was updated to correctly identify the name of the DEF CON event. 

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