DefCon Welcomes Kids: Hacking Fun for Everyone
Hackers ages 8 to 16 had the chance to participate in the DefCon security conference last weekend with DefCon Kids, a program aimed at the next generation of computer experts. The program's goal is foster kids' interest in white-hat hacking -- using computer skills for good rather than evil.
The twenty-somethings arrested by the FBI in July on suspicion of partaking in criminal activities tied to the Anonymous hacker community may soon be regarded as geriatrics.
The first annual hacker conference for kids, DefCon Kids, was held in Las Vegas last weekend as part of DefCon, which bills itself as the world's largest hacker conference.
DefCon Kids included sessions with representatives of United States federal agencies. Its goal is to convince children aged 8 to 16 that it's cool to be a white hat -- a hacker who fights crime.
The federal government has been reaching out to kids for some time -- the National Security Agency (NSA) runs the CryptoKids site, which teaches kids about the NSA and cryptography.
"This education could help kids make the right choices both to protect themselves and in terms of what they do, so they're less likely to be threatened or be a threat," Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told TechNewsWorld.
"Kids could easily be victims or, because they don't often think through the consequences of their actions, hackers," Enderle added.
Catching Them Young
The schedule for DefCon Kids included a keynote speech, a talk about the history and future of DefCon, puzzle solving and a talk on hacking.
Cybersecurity professionals CedoxX, Riverside and FS ran the Wall of Sheep workshop. The guiding principle behind the Wall of Sheep, founded by Riverside and CedoxX more than 10 years ago, is being cruel to be kind.
In a workshop at DefCon, Wall of Sheep volunteers showed how easily they can passively observe the traffic on unencrypted networks, looking for evidence of users logging into email, websites or other network services. They post the names of those using unsafe connections as a means of heightening security awareness. [*Correction - Aug. 9, 2011]
Jennifer Wilcox, museum administrator and educational coordinator for the National Security Agency's National Cryptologic Museum, ran the Secrets Revealed workshop. This taught attendees how to solve simple cipher messages and create their own secret codes, among other things.
The End of Innocence?
Are we introducing kids to computer security concepts too soon? Shouldn't we just let them be kids? Could these concepts be too much for them to handle?
The NSA has the CryptoKids site for kids, which indicates it doesn't seem to think so. And Ely Eshel, who got hooked on programming as a junior in high school and worked for a defense contractor and some large banks, doesn't think so either.
He has written a book, Kids Can Program Too!, which also has a website. for which he set up this website. It's for computer-literate kids in grades 6 through 12.
"Kids can absorb computer security concepts and ideas very well because their minds are set in learning mode," Enderle said.
*ECT News Network editor's note - Aug. 9, 2011: The original published version of this article incorrectly identified CedoxX, Riverside and FS as hackers. They are, in fact, cybersecurity professionals. Further, the original version included this incorrect statement: "Wall of Sheep volunteers hack into unprotected computers and mobile devices of DefCon attendees and publicize the results." In fact, Wall of Sheep does not intrude on or attack computer networks in any way.