Yeah, I know what you are thinking. It’s bad enough that the hackers get their own convention and get to rampage across Las Vegas, but now they want me to turn my kids over to them to brainwash them for their nefarious world domination plots. A smattering of kids have shown up every year, tailing their parents, and there would be a session or two dedicated to the youth set. But now, it is a sanctioned part of the Con, having its own schedule which shadows the main Con in schedule and tone. It does leave out some of the more edgy events (like Hacker Jeopardy which can get raunchy) and replaces them with cool field trips and other off-site events. I checked it out and I have to say, it is the most exciting thing I’ve seen at the con in many years. Many on the outside see DEFCON as some sort of cabal of evil blackhat hackers and fugitives from justice, but have long since moved on from that set, if it ever was. Most of the attendees (myself included) have legit day jobs, mortgages and kids now, hence the inspiration for the kid’s version of the con.
What these programs intend to do for young minds is to encourage the hacker mindset which is a philosophy of challenging convention and finding deeper understandings of technology while putting an ethical backbone to such intellectual curiosities. In fact, the program is sponsored by the NSA, DOD and other companies who see the value in cultivating kid’s minds with a healthy doubt for the status quo and the desire to try the path less taken, finding new function from the same old form. The concept of Responsible Disclosure is emphasized and this year over 80 new zero-day security holes in mobile games were discovered by the kids and reported properly for remediation. Looking at the list of sessions which parallel the adult conference, it looks like the coolest kids summer camp ever. I talked to one of the organizers, “York” (DEFCON planners and attendees often go by pseudonym, kind of a custom in the hacker community), who said that the programs are intended for kids 8-16 and require a paid conference attending parent to be with them during the programs. This shouldn’t be a problem as many of the sessions will be enjoyed as much by the dads and moms as the kids. They had over 100 kids registered for this year’s kids con with tracks including crypto-puzzle solving games, CSI-style fake crimes to solve and cool demos of new technology like 3D printers, drones and other gadgets. And the kids get to participate in solving the now famous DEFCON badge puzzle, a mystery built into the DEFCON attendee badges with clues and direction from DEFCON staff and volunteers. The program runs Friday through Sunday and has its own awards and contests. I’m already making plans to bring my 12 year old daughter next year and maybe my nine year old. I’m excited to show my daughters the world I work and play in.
For more information, visit www.defconkids.org