Defcon is launching a “kids-only” version of its hacking conference, in hopes of swaying the next generation to the side of good against a backdrop of prominent hacking incidents.
The first-ever “Defcon Kids” conference will be held this August in Las Vegas, giving children between eight and 16 the opportunity to learn how to hack computers and protect themselves against cyber-attacks.
The kid-friendly event will take place amid a spate of prominent hacks on a slew of governments, international organizations and corporations over the past few months.
As high-profile hacking incidents escalate, one of Defcon Kids’ stated goals has taken on increased importance: to convince technologically-gifted youngsters that it is cool to be a “white hat,” a hacker who uses computer prowess and ingenuity to fight crime.
Ideally, this will also keep budding hackers from becoming “black hats,” where hacking is done for unscrupulous purposes, like stealing money or identities.
“Hacking isn’t just fun and games. It isn’t about breaking into systems,” said a 16-year-old hacker who goes by the handle “FS” to protect his identity from black hats. “It’s about securing yourself and the people around you.”
FS, who is paid by companies to break into computer networks and uncover vulnerabilities, will teach Defcon Kids how to protect wireless networks’ private data from Internet spies. He’ll also be joined by other elite hackers who have volunteered to lead classes at the conference, offering sessions on computer programing, puzzle solving and even lock picking.
A hardware hacking class, for example, will help children modify a circuit board to play the game “Simon.” They’ll also learn how white hat hackers use Google search to find private, sensitive information exposed on the Internet.
But the event has limits, and the kids won’t participate in illegal activity by infiltrating private sites.
“It will give the kids an avenue to practice certain skills without the fear of getting into trouble,” said Chris Hadnagy, a Defcon Kids instructor, to Reuters.
The event may also give U.S. federal agents the chance to meet and greet the next group of cyber crime-fighters. Police, national intelligence agents, the military and consultants have long attended and recruited from the main Defcon event since its beginnings in 1992.
They’ll likely flock to Defcon this year to rally more hackers to their cause, especially now that the Pentagon is gearing up to release its cyber-war protocols.
Defcon Kids is not the first initiative to reach out to motivated, computer-savvy children. The highly-secretive National Security Agency, which operates espionage missions for the U.S. government, manages a website called “CryptoKids,” which attempts to make hacking for the government cool.
The site features the adventures of cartoon characters “Cryto Cat” and “Decipher Dog,” as well as “Cyndi,” a fictional hardware hacker, and offers downloadable coloring books, video games and tips for older hackers.