Last updated
Contest area Def Con 24.agr.jpg
GenreSecurity Conference, Hacker Conference
Location(s) Las Vegas, Nevada
Years active26
InauguratedJune 9, 1993 (1993-06-09) [1]
Founder Jeff Moss
Previous eventAugust 8-11, 2019
Next eventAugust 6-9, 2020
AttendanceOver 30,000

DEF CON (also written as DEFCON, Defcon or DC) is one of the world's largest and most notable hacker conventions, held annually in Las Vegas, Nevada. The first DEF CON took place in June 1993 and today many attendees at DEF CON include computer security professionals, journalists, lawyers, federal government employees, security researchers, students, and hackers with a general interest in software, computer architecture, hardware modification, conference badges, and anything else that can be "hacked". The event consists of several tracks of speakers about computer- and hacking-related subjects, as well as cyber-security challenges and competitions (known as hacking wargames). Contests held during the event are extremely varied, and can range from creating the longest Wi-Fi connection (aircrack-ng) to finding the most effective way to cool a beer in the Nevada heat.[ citation needed ]

A computer security conference is a convention for individuals involved in computer security. They generally serve as meeting places for system and network administrators, hackers, and computer security experts.

Las Vegas Valley Metropolitan area in Nevada

The Las Vegas Valley is a major metropolitan area in the southern part of the U.S. state of Nevada. The state's largest urban agglomeration, it is part of the Las Vegas MSA. The Valley is largely defined by the Las Vegas Valley landform, a 600 sq mi (1,600 km2) basin area surrounded by mountains to the north, south, east and west of the metropolitan area. The Valley is home to the three largest incorporated cities in Nevada: Las Vegas, Henderson and North Las Vegas. Eleven unincorporated towns governed by the Clark County government are part of the Las Vegas Township and constitute the largest community in the state of Nevada.

Nevada U.S. state in the United States

Nevada is a state in the Western United States. It is bordered by Oregon to the northwest, Idaho to the northeast, California to the west, Arizona to the southeast, and Utah to the east. Nevada is the 7th most extensive, the 32nd most populous, but the 9th least densely populated of the U.S. states. Nearly three-quarters of Nevada's people live in Clark County, which contains the Las Vegas–Paradise metropolitan area where three of the state's four largest incorporated cities are located. Nevada's capital is Carson City.


Other contests, past and present, include lockpicking, robotics-related contests, art, slogan, coffee wars, scavenger hunt and Capture the Flag. Capture the Flag (CTF) is perhaps the best known of these contests and is a hacking competition where teams of hackers attempt to attack and defend computers and networks using software and network structures. CTF has been emulated at other hacking conferences as well as in academic and military contexts (as red team exercises).

The Defcon Robot Contest was a robotics competition which was held at the annual Defcon computer security conference in Las Vegas.

Scavenger hunt

A scavenger hunt is a game in which the organizers prepare a list defining specific items, which the participants seek to gather or complete all items on the list, usually without purchasing them. Usually participants work in small teams, although the rules may allow individuals to participate. The goal is to be the first to complete the list or to complete the most items on that list.

A red team is an independent group that challenges an organization to improve its effectiveness by assuming an adversarial role or point of view. It is particularly effective in organizations with strong cultures and fixed ways of approaching problems. The United States intelligence community has red teams that explore alternative futures and write articles as if they were foreign world leaders. Little formal doctrine or publications about Red Teaming in the military exist.

Federal law enforcement agents from the FBI, DoD, United States Postal Inspection Service, DHS via and other agencies regularly attend DEF CON. [2] [3]

Federal Bureau of Investigation Governmental agency belonging to the United States Department of Justice

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is the domestic intelligence and security service of the United States and its principal federal law enforcement agency. Operating under the jurisdiction of the United States Department of Justice, the FBI is also a member of the U.S. Intelligence Community and reports to both the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence. A leading U.S. counter-terrorism, counterintelligence, and criminal investigative organization, the FBI has jurisdiction over violations of more than 200 categories of federal crimes.

United States Department of Defense United States federal executive department

The United States Department of Defense is an executive branch department of the federal government charged with coordinating and supervising all agencies and functions of the government directly related to national security and the United States Armed Forces. The DoD is the largest employer in the world, with nearly 1.3 million active-duty service members as of 2016. More employees include over 826,000 National Guard and Reservists from the armed forces, and over 732,000 civilians bringing the total to over 2.8 million employees. Headquartered at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C., the DoD's stated mission is to provide "the military forces needed to deter war and ensure our nation's security".

United States Postal Inspection Service

The United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) or the Postal Inspectors is the law enforcement arm of the United States Postal Service. Its jurisdiction is defined as "crimes that may adversely affect or fraudulently use the U.S. Mail, the postal system or postal employees." The mission of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service is to support and protect the U.S. Postal Service, its employees, infrastructure, and customers by enforcing the laws that defend the nation's mail system from illegal or dangerous use.


DEF CON was founded in 1993 by Jeff Moss as a farewell party for his friend, a fellow hacker and member of "Platinum Net", a Fido protocol based hacking network from Canada. [4] The party was planned for Las Vegas a few days before his friend was to leave the United States, because his father had accepted employment out of the country. However, his friend's father left early, taking his friend along, so Jeff was left alone with the entire party planned. Jeff decided to invite all his hacker friends to go to Las Vegas with him and have the party with them instead. Hacker friends from far and wide got together and laid the foundation for DEF CON, with roughly 100 people in attendance.

Jeff Moss (hacker) American hacker

Jeff Moss, also known as Dark Tangent, is an American hacker, computer and internet security expert who founded the Black Hat and DEF CON computer security conferences.

The term DEF CON comes from the movie WarGames , referencing the U.S. Armed Forces defense readiness condition (DEFCON). In the movie, Las Vegas was selected as a nuclear target, and since the event was being hosted in Las Vegas, it occurred to Jeff Moss to name the convention DEF CON. However, to a lesser extent, CON also stands for convention and DEF is taken from the letters on the number 3 on a telephone keypad, a reference to phreakers.[ citation needed ] Any variation of the spelling, other than "DEF CON", could be considered an infringement of the DEF CON brand. The official name of the conference includes a space in-between DEF and CON.

<i>WarGames</i> 1983 American Cold War science fiction film by John Badham

WarGames is a 1983 American Cold War science fiction film written by Lawrence Lasker and Walter F. Parkes and directed by John Badham. The film stars Matthew Broderick, Dabney Coleman, John Wood, and Ally Sheedy. The film follows David Lightman (Broderick), a young hacker who unwittingly accesses WOPR, a United States military supercomputer originally programmed to predict possible outcomes of nuclear war. Lightman gets WOPR to run a nuclear war simulation, believing it to be a computer game. The computer, now tied into the nuclear weapons control system and unable to tell the difference between simulation and reality, attempts to start World War III.

DEFCON Alert posture used by the United States Armed Forces

The defense readiness condition (DEFCON) is an alert state used by the United States Armed Forces.

Telephone keypad keypad that appears on a "Touch Tone" telephone

A telephone keypad is the keypad installed on a push-button telephone or similar telecommunication device for dialing a telephone number. It was standardized when the dual-tone multi-frequency signaling (DTMF) system was developed in the Bell System in the United States in the 1960s that replaced rotary dialing originally developed in electromechanical switching systems. Because of the installed abundance of rotary dial equipment well into the 1990s, many telephone keypads were also designed to produce loop-disconnect pulses electronically, and some could be optionally switched to produce either DTMF or pulses.

Though intended to be a one-time event, Moss received overwhelmingly positive feedback from attendees, and decided to host the event for a second year at their urging. The event's attendance nearly doubled the second year, and has enjoyed continued success. [5] In 2019, an estimated 30,000 people attended DEF CON 27. [6]

For DEF CON's 20th Anniversary, a film was commissioned entitled DEFCON: The Documentary. [7] The film follows the four days of the conference, events and people (attendees and staff), and covers history and philosophy behind DEF CON's success and unique experiences.

In January 2018, the DEF CON China Beta event was announced. The conference was held May 11-13, 2018 in Beijing, and marked DEF CON's first conference outside the United States.

Black Badge

The Black Badge is the highest award DEF CON gives to contest winners of certain events. Capture the flag (CTF) winners sometimes earn these, as well as Hacker Jeopardy winners. The contests that are awarded Black Badges vary from year to year, and a Black Badge allows free entrance to DEF CON for life, potentially a value of thousands of dollars. [8]

In April 2017, a DEF CON Black Badge was featured in an exhibit [9] in the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History entitled "Innovations in Defense: Artificial Intelligence and the Challenge of Cybersecurity". The badge belongs to ForAllSecure's Mayhem Cyber Reasoning System, [10] the winner of the DARPA 2016 Cyber Grand Challenge at DEF CON 24 and the first non-human entity ever to earn a Black Badge.


Since DEF CON 11, fundraisers have been conducted for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). The first fundraiser was a dunk tank and was an "official" event. The EFF now has an event named "The Summit" hosted by the Vegas 2.0 crew that is an open event and fundraiser. DEF CON 18 (2010) hosted a new fundraiser called MohawkCon.



A notable part of DEF CON is the conference badge, which identifies attendees and ensures attendees can access conference events and activities. The DEF CON badge has historically been notable because of its changing nature, sometimes being an electronic badge (PCB), with LED's, or sometimes being a non-electronic badge such as a CD. Conference badges often contain challenges or callbacks to hacker or other technology history, such as the usage of the Konami Code in the DEF CON 24 badge, or the DEF CON 25 badge reverting to the look of the DEF CON 1 badge. DEFCON Badges do not (generally) identify attendees by name, however the badges are used to differentiate attendees from others. One way of doing this has been to have different badges, a general conference attendee (HUMAN) badge, a Staff member (GOON), Vendor, Speaker, Press, and other badges. In addition, individuals and organizations have begun creating their own badges in what has become known as badgelife. These badges may be purchased in many cases, or earned at the conference by completing challenges or events. Some badges may give the holder access to after hours events at the conference. In 2018 the evolution of this came with what was termed "shitty addon's" or SAO's. These were miniature (usually) PCB's that connected to the official and other badges that may extend functionality or were just collected. [11] [12]

Multiple DefCon badges, electronic and non-electronic, and other con badges. DefCon Badges.jpg
Multiple DefCon badges, electronic and non-electronic, and other con badges.


Workshops are dedicated classes on various topics related to information security and related topics. Historical workshops have been held on topics such as Digital Forensics investigation, hacking IoT devices, playing with RFID, and attacking smart devices.


Villages are dedicated spaces arranged around a specific topic. Villages may be considered mini conferences within the con, with many holding their own independent talks as well as hands-on activities such as CTF's, or labs. Some villages include the IoT Village, Recon, Biohacking, lockpicking, and the well known Social Engineering and vote hacking villages. In 2018 the vote hacking village gained media attention due to concerns about US election systems security vulnerabilities. [13]

Use of handles

Attendees at DEF CON and other Hacker conferences often utilize an alias or "handle" at conferences. This is in keeping with the hacker community's desire for anonymity. Some known handles include DEF CON founder Jeff Moss's handle of "Dark Tangent". A notable event at DEF CON is DEF CON 101 which starts off the con and may offer the opportunity for an individual to come up on stage and be assigned a handle by a number of members of the community.

Cons within con

DEF CON has its own cultural underground which results in individuals wanting to create their own meetups or "cons" within DEF CON. These may be actual formal meetups or may be informal. Well known cons are:

DEF CON Groups

DEF CON Groups are worldwide, local chapters of hackers, thinkers, makers and others. DEF CON Groups were started as a splinter off of the 2600 meetup groups because of concerns over politicization. Local DEF CON groups are formed and are posted online. DEF CON Groups are usually identified by the area code of the area where they are located in the US, and by other numbers when outside of the US. Examples include DC801 and DC201. DEF CON Groups may seek permission to make a logo that includes the official DEF CON logo with approval.

Relationship to other hacker cons

DEF CON is considered the "world's largest" hacker con. It is also considered one of the core conferences, with organizers and attendees using it as a model for other conferences.

Notable incidents

High-profile issues which have garnered significant media attention.

1999On July 10, 1999, the Cult of the Dead Cow hacker collective released Back Orifice 2000 at DEF CON 7, in what was, at the time, the largest presentation in DEF CON history.
2001On July 16, 2001, Russian programmer Dmitry Sklyarov was arrested the day after DEF CON for writing software to decrypt Adobe's e-book format.
2005On July 31, 2005, Cisco used legal threats to suppress Mike Lynn from presenting at DEF CON about flaws he had found in the Cisco IOS used on routers. [14]
2007In August 2007, Michelle Madigan, a reporter for Dateline NBC , attempted to secretly record hackers admitting to crimes at the convention. After being outed by DEF CON founder Jeff Moss during an assembly, she was heckled and chased out of the convention by attendees for her use of covert audio and video recording equipment. DEF CON staff tried to get Madigan to obtain a press pass before the outing happened. [15] A DEF CON source at NBC had tipped off organizers to Madigan's plans. [2]
2008 MIT students Zack Anderson, R.J. Ryan and Alessandro Chiesa were to present a session entitled "The Anatomy of a Subway Hack: Breaking Crypto RFIDS and Magstripes of Ticketing Systems." The presentation description included the phrase "Want free subway rides for life?" and promised to focus on the Boston T subway. [16] However, the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) sued the students and MIT in United States District Court in Massachusetts on August 8, claiming that the students violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) by delivering information to conference attendees that could be used to defraud the MBTA of transit fares. [17] [18] The court issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting the students from disclosing the material for a period of ten days, despite the fact the material had already been disseminated to DEF CON attendees at the start of the show.

In 2008's contest "Race to Zero," contestants submitted a version of given malware which was required to be undetectable by all of the antivirus engines in each round. The contest concept attracted much negative attention. [19] [20]

2009WIRED [21] reported that an ATM kiosk was positioned in the conference center of the Riviera Hotel Casino capturing data from an unknown number of hackers attending the DEF CON hacker conference.
2011Security company HBGary Federal used legal threats to prevent former CEO Aaron Barr from attending a panel discussion at the conference. [22]
2012The director of the National Security Agency, Keith B. Alexander, gave the keynote speech. [23] During the question and answers session, the first question for Alexander, [23] fielded by Jeff Moss, [24] was "Does the NSA really keep a file on everyone, and if so, how can I see mine?" Alexander replied "Our job is foreign intelligence" and that "Those who would want to weave the story that we have millions or hundreds of millions of dossiers on people, is absolutely false…From my perspective, this is absolute nonsense." [23] On March 12, 2013, during a United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing, Senator Ron Wyden quoted the 2012 DEF CON keynote speech and asked Director of National Intelligence James Clapper if the U.S. conducted domestic surveillance; Clapper made statements saying that there was no intentional domestic surveillance. [23] In June 2013, NSA surveillance programs which collected data on US citizens, such as PRISM, had been exposed. Andy Greenberg of Forbes said that NSA officials, including Alexander, in the years 2012 and 2013 "publicly denied–often with carefully hedged words–participating in the kind of snooping on Americans that has since become nearly undeniable." [23]
2013On July 11, 2013, Jeff Moss posted a statement, [25] located on the DEF CON blog, titled "Feds, We Need Some Time Apart." It stated that "I think it would be best for everyone involved if the feds call a ‘time-out’ and not attend DEF CON this year." [26] This was the first time in the organization's history that it had asked federal authorities not to attend. [25] Actor Will Smith visited the convention to study the DEF CON culture for an upcoming movie role. [27]
2016On August 4, 2016, DEF CON and DARPA co-hosted the 2016 Cyber Grand Challenge, a first-of-its-kind all-machine hacking tournament. Competing teams had to create a bot capable of handling all aspects of offense and defense with complete autonomy. Seven finalists competed for a US$2M grand prize.

The winner of the Cyber Grand Challenge was "Mayhem", an AI created by ForAllSecure of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Mayhem then went on to participate in the previously humans-only DEF CON Capture the Flag Contest, [28] where it finished in last place, despite pulling ahead of human teams often in a contest for which it was not specifically designed.

2017At the "Voting Machine Village" event, dozens of voting machines brought to the conference were breached. [29]

In September 2017, the Voting Machine Village produced "DEF CON 25 Voting Machine Hacking Village: Report on Cyber Vulnerabilities in US Election Equipment, Databases and Infrastructure" summarizing its findings. The findings were publicly released at an event sponsored by the Atlantic Council [30] and the paper went on to win an O'Reilly Defender Research Award. [31]

Marcus Hutchins, better known online by his handle MalwareTech, the 23-year-old British security researcher who was credited with stopping the WannaCry outbreak was arrested by the FBI at the airport preparing to leave the country after attending DEF CON over his alleged involvement with the Kronos banking trojan. [32]

2018In March of 2018, the DEF CON Voting Machine Hacking Village was awarded a Cybersecurity Excellence Award. The award cites both the spurring of a national dialog around securing the US election system and the release of the nation's first cybersecurity election plan.

Entertainment references

Venues, dates, and attendance

Each conference venue and date has been extracted from the DC archives for easy reference. [34]

DEF CON 30TBAAugust 11–142022TBA
DEF CON 29TBAAugust 5–82021TBA
DEF CON 28Caesars Forum, Harrah's, Linq, and Flamingo August 6–92020TBA
DEF CON 27 Paris Hotel, Bally's Hotel, Planet Hollywood, and Flamingo August 8–112019~30,000 [35]
DEF CON China 1.0 751 D-Park May 31–June 22019TBA
DEF CON 26 Caesars Palace and Flamingo August 9–12201828,000 [36]
DEF CON China βKuntai Hotel (Beijing)May 11–132018N/A
DEF CON 25Caesars PalaceJuly 27–30201725,000 [37]
DEF CON 24Paris Hotel and Bally's HotelAugust 4–7201622,000 [38]
DEF CON 23Paris Hotel and Bally's HotelAugust 6–9201516,000+ [39]
DEF CON 22 Rio Hotel & Casino August 7–10201416,000 [40]
DEF CON 21Rio Hotel & CasinoAugust 1–4201312,000 [40]
DEF CON 20Rio Hotel & CasinoJuly 26–292012N/A
DEF CON 19Rio Hotel & CasinoAugust 4–72011N/A
DEF CON 18 Riviera Hotel & Casino July 30 – August 12010N/A
DEF CON 17Riviera Hotel & CasinoJuly 30 – August 22009N/A
DEF CON 16Riviera Hotel & CasinoAugust 8–1020088,000 [41]
DEF CON 15Riviera Hotel & CasinoAugust 3–52007N/A
DEF CON 14Riviera Hotel & CasinoAugust 4–62006N/A
DEF CON 13Alexis Park ResortJuly 29–312005N/A
DEF CON 12Alexis Park ResortJuly 30 – August 12004N/A
DEF CON 11Alexis Park ResortAugust 1–32003N/A
DEF CON 10Alexis Park ResortAugust 2–42002N/A
DEF CON 9Alexis Park ResortJuly 13–152001N/A
DEF CON 8Alexis Park ResortJuly 28–302000N/A
DEF CON 7Alexis Park ResortJuly 9–111999N/A
DEF CON 6 Plaza Hotel & Casino July 31 – August 21998N/A
DEF CON 5 Aladdin Hotel & Casino July 11–131997N/A
DEF CON 4 Monte Carlo Resort and Casino July 26–281996N/A
DEF CON 3 Tropicana Resort & Casino August 4–61995N/A
DEF CON 2 Sahara Hotel and Casino July 22–241994200 (rough estimate)
DEF CON 1 Sands Hotel and Casino June 9–111993100 (rough estimate)

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Further reading