Michael B. Duff

Lubbock's answer to a question no one asked

Duff: DefCon hackers teach 'Dateline' reporter just how deep the deep end is

Imagine this as a Hollywood movie. An intrepid young reporter (I picture Nicole Kidman) sneaks into a notorious hacker convention and captures their secrets with a hidden camera.

Although she features the wholesome blond looks of a high school cheerleading coach, she blends in with the geeks by wearing glasses and slouching a lot.

After risking life and limb in a series of convoluted plot twists, the reporter makes it back to her network and exposes dark secrets from the digital underground.

That’s the Hollywood version.

Here’s what happened in real life. “Dateline” producer Michelle Madigan, who really does look like a cheerleading coach, tried to sneak into DefCon 2007 with a hidden camera.

She refused press credentials and ignored convention rules in hopes of getting some confessions on camera. Good strategy for a Michael Bay film, but not so smart in real life.

DefCon is the most elite hacker convention in the world, an annual gathering of security experts and shady characters from all over the digital world.

These are arguably the most paranoid people on Earth, and “Dateline” thought it could catch them with their pants down. Instead, convention attendees turned the tables on Ms. Madigan and ran her out of town on a rail.

Instead of scooping her fellow reporters, Madigan fled the scene in disgrace, while her (properly credentialed) colleagues caught the whole thing on tape.

DefCon devotees are used to getting official attention. The convention is so well-attended by law enforcement the hackers have actually made a game of it.

Every year they play “Spot the Fed” – a game where attendees vouch for each other and pick out law enforcement professionals in their midst.

This year they changed it to “Spot the Undercover Reporter.” Madigan made a break for it and was in the parking lot before they got her picture up.

Madigan’s experience proves that the only thing more dangerous than a paranoid computer genius is a paranoid computer genius with a sense of humor.

Here’s a free clue for “Dateline”: ambush journalism is just one step above paparazzi stalking, and if you want to infiltrate a hacker conference, recruit the skinny guy with the four-day beard, not the student council blond.

Written by Michael B. Duff

August 24, 2007 at 14:48

Posted in Columns

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