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Kicked Out Of Defcon 16!!!

I feel very punk. While covering the 16th annual Defcon hackers’ convention in Las Vegas this past weekend for G4, I was escorted out of the premises. After shooting the intro to the piece, it was noted that the shot contained tiny, tiny people way off in the background and this ultimately violated their press rules. Even though no one in the frame was identifiable, it was still a no-no. Certainly not intentional on our part, but at that point it was too late…a couple of attendees complained and turned in photos of the infraction, and our badges were summarily revoked. The real bummer part was that I was mid conversation with Dan Kaminsky about how he came to discover the flaw in THE ENTIRE INTERNET when they whisked him away and showed us the door.

Now, I want to be clear about this: I bear no ill will toward Defcon. It was a fascinating gathering of some of the most creative minds in the world coming together to share ideas. For the most part, hackers are public servants who reveal fatal holes in our digital underverse for the purposes of protecting us from those who might have less than honorable intentions. The show floor was loaded with amazing stuff: a “Wall of Sheep,” which listed the email and IP of anyone foolish enough to use the convention’s unsecured Wi-Fi, lockpicking contests (analog hacking), a computery “capture the flag,” and even a contest with a $5000 prize for whomever could sit through 30 hours of software presentations. Also, I was lucky enough to have a nice chat with Zack Anderson, one of the MIT students who tipped the world off to a security hole in the Boston public transportation payment system. A day before he was supposed to speak about the discovery, the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority obtained a court order which prevented him from talking about it.

Hackers are a really cool bunch. SUPER smart, but generally very personable and excited about their work. The drawback to hacking is the accompanying paranoia. Their trade has taught them not to trust anyone, particularly the press. Last year an undercover Dateline reporter was outed for trying to create some retardo exposé on the event. She was humiliated and that was hilarious. Unfortunately for us, the organizers failed to see that G4 was 100% on their side and our goal was only to celebrate the event and praise their work. As careful was we tried to be about what and where we shot (it was tough with all the restrictions), our efforts weren’t good enough. Ironically, we assumed the role that hackers are so often forced to take—being punished for trying to help. As we were led by security into an empty conference room, their tone was calm yet scolding. Security guards flanked the the door while they reviewed our footage, and then it was over.

All in all, it was a terrific event and I laud the organizers and the attendees. If you ever hear someone talk about “the real deal” computer brainiacs, they’re referring to these guys. The tricky part for Defcons of the future is going to be trying to strike that balance between having a public event where everyone wants to be anonymous and having press coverage. My suggestion would be don’t have press coverage.



One of the coolest elements of Defcon 16 hung around your neck—Make Magazine author and engineer “Kingpin” designed the electronic badges which could send and receive information through in IR receiver and store it in an SD card, giving other attendees the ability to hack your badge. With no card installed, the badge works as a TV-B-Gone. This was a very difficult badge to have taken away…

Images: Defcon, Chris Hardwick/Nerdist

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  1. flea says:

    So, this thread is a little stale and old but I feel like there are a couple of points that haven’t been made clear.

    For instance *I* was the person that revealed the footage. I was able to make out one person in particular walking near the robot contest clearly. Based on that, the call was made to remove you.

    I hope you guys come back, I hope it works out better for you. If you have any questions or need any help to make this happen, feel free to email me (you’ll have to figure out my email, shouldn’t be hard for a good journalist) or approach me at con.

    I also should point out that I don’t have any kind of super human vision.

    My memory also has no super human properties but *I* don’t remember anybody saying or implying that G4 has a bad reputation. At least not in the context that it’s suggested here. I do think I remember somebody, maybe even me but I don’t think so, saying something indicating that over the last couple of days there had been complaints and issues with the G4 crew.

    The first issue was Friday morning, myself and a couple of other goons spotted your crew with their camera being held at knee level. This is a clear violation of the rules of engagement, at this time I approached the crew and asked them if they were aware of the ROE, it was Friday morning, I knew that there was a lot of confusion for everybody. They told me they were NOT aware of the ROE yet. I told them where they could get them and asked them to please review and conform to them. They smiled, we smiled, they said thanks, we said you’re welcome.

    The next issue was photographed and mentioned above, I’m willing to believe that camera was off, I don’t have any reason to believe it wasn’t. The rules however, they were again broken.

    Finally, when *I* was able to identify a person in your viewfinder, it was clear that you had been shooting the crowd below, whether you new it or not.

    All of this, adds up to G4 having a ‘bad reputation’ over the last few days. I’ve worked in, with and as press in the past, I understand your job is hard and I’m not happy this ended the way it did, but I believe that the issue, was 100% the responsibility the G4 crew.

    We’re a 17 year old con this year, we’ve been through this process over and over again, we’ve refined our process through trial and error, these rules ARE restrictive, but they’re there for a reason. While attending DEFCON is your job, ours is to give the attendees the best time possible, the ROE for press meet the goal our job demands.

    I hate to use analogies but if you were breaking laws on the road, regardless of your intention or awareness of you breaking them, when you ultimately got caught and punished, the same argument you used here wouldn’t fly.

  2. The Nerdist says:

    Chosen: I can’t wait to go back next year.

    dc0de: I totally understand. I’m glad to finally see the pic that got us busted. It’s clear to me that the camera man is not filming (his LED is clearly off) and that he’s just holding the camera on while talking to the producer. That said, since the rules state that the camera must be pointed down when not in use then I can’t argue that we broke them. I am sorry this happened and next year we’ll have to be more conscious of that. The hackers should take comfort in knowing that we have absolutely no panned shots of the crowd, however.

    Thanks for taking the time to chat about this.

  3. dc0de says:

    The Nerdist,

    I understand, I was simply trying to get those who think that Defcon is being “too strict” a dose of reality.

    As far as putting a person with every camera crew? Well, at Defcon, all of the staff are volunteers. We don’t have the staff to put someone with every press member, but perhaps that is something that you and your people could volunteer their time to assist with. We certainly respect G4 / Tech TV, and like the programming (Where we can get it), and really didn’t like to have to throw ANYONE out of the Con, nevermind a press crew that we respect.

    However, having said that, having people on the Contest floor who witnessed the camera crew panning the crowd and complaining that they didn’t want their faces, likenesses, or presence at the Con to be recorded or televised, we had no choice. As you can see here, it was clear that people not only were concerned, but actually had time to get their camera’s out, turn them on, and take images of the crew breaking the rules.

    The rules state, that when NOT filming, the camera is to be pointed at the floor. There are several images, showing that the G4 team didn’t do this, and it is the primary cause of the issues. As well, our Eagle eyes DID spot people in the crowd, and if you would like, I will tell you who was in the crowd that I can identify, off list.

    For those of you that want to complain, I would suggest that instead, you volunteer to work at Defcon, go to the Defcon Forums, and sign up. Your passion for the industry, events and your participation, can only help us avoid situations like this in the future.

    That’s my 2¢, YMMV.

  4. Chosen1 says:

    Hello Chris,

    I am saddened that the Defcon experience for the G4 team ended on a sour note. In the past the track record with the press, has been rather mixed. Especially considering the circus that happened last year, you can understand a certain degree of paranoia that many of our convention attendees feel. Hackers as a culture are misunderstood and often demonized in the mainstream media, which does little help those who would like to foster a better relationship with the Hacker Community as a whole. Also consider that there are those in attendance (feds, etc) who can not appear in public. In the interest of protecting the attendees great pains are taken and the attendees privacy rights are vehemently protected.

    I have seen the piece your team put together ( and I think you did a great job with the footage you had. I was pleasantly surprised it was kept so upbeat and positive and for that I extend my gratitude to all of those involved.

    I think in light of the events of the last two years it might be a really good idea to take a hard look at how things might be made to be better and go smoother. Thanks for the info on how apple does theirs. Apple is all about the marketing, and nothing involving the company is presented without their seal of approval. You may have heard that there were talks scheduled with Apple representatives, these were canceled when their marketing dept. discovered them.

    I appreciate your position that there was a misunderstanding and do indeed hope that your group will be able to attend the event next year, a little wiser. I would love to see more stories with the positive outlook like the one linked above.

    Happy Hacking,


  5. The Nerdist says:

    Well, dc0de, if you can recognize people in that balcony shot then I congratulate you for being part eagle. But you’re right. Not understanding the rules doesn’t make it cool to break them, but I stand by my claim that we didn’t willingly break them. I will accept responsibility for making an unintentional mistake (though, as a host, I have little control over where the camera is pointed). I’m not sure why you guys keep making it out like we said “suck it! we can do whatever we want!!!” It’s obvious we just weren’t clear enough on the rules. If you don’t realize you’re making a mistake, it couldn’t possibly occur to you to ask someone if you’re about to make a mistake. But again, setting up the shots is so not my call because I am little more than a talking chimp.

    At MacWorld they send an Apple (also very protective of their image) rep along with the crews to make sure mistakes don’t happen. This is because people aren’t perfect. We were not perfect. I keep having to write that it was not on purpose and I keep seeing phrases like, “…doesn’t give you carte blanche to take liberties.” And truthfully, you really can’t say what other press outlets followed or didn’t follow unless you review all of their footage. Just sayin’…

    Beyond what happened I have continued to gush about Defcon and what a thoroughly positive event it is and I think that is further evidenced in the piece, which I believe makes your “whining” comment inappropriate. I was merely recounting the events on the blog from my P.O.V. (there may have been a modicum of whining)

    Still, there are absolutely no hard feelings and I really would love to just move forward. I am truly sorry this whole mess occurred and I hope G4 goes back next year (a little wiser) and I hope I can cover it again because I loved it.

    Can we shake hands and put it behind us?

  6. dc0de says:

    Well, you asked the lockpick village for permission to shoot in their space.

    The balcony over the contest area is CLEARLY NOT the lockpick village.

    It’s very clear in the press rules that taking shots of the crowd are not allowed, and in fact, there WERE people that were recognizable in your footage.

    Had you had any questions about what you supposed to shoot, the onus is on you, the press, to ask what is ok to shoot. Ignorance of the press rules is no excuse, just like ignorance of the laws are no excuse for breaking them.

    We really don’t need to be dramatic, and I’m sure that Defcon was very fair in light of G4’s failure to act responsibly within the rules of engagement for Press.

    It is very notable that we did not have to ask any OTHER press organizations to leave, as they followed the rules to the letter. Just because you’re G4, and you “support” technology, doesn’t give you carte blanc to take liberties with the rules.

    Had you learned anything from the MSNBC debacle last year, you would have understood, that the community in general is very sensitive to the press, and on “high-alert” for press persons who are trying to make us look bad in the public eye.

    I hope that you can accept the fact that you broke the rules, and were asked to leave for it. If so, you should simply say that, and move on. Otherwise, you’re simply whining because you were ignorant of the rules, and that’s just too bad.

    I hope to see G4 next year, and hope that you now really understand the RoE for press. We take it seriously, and so should you.

    That’s my 2¢, YMMV.

  7. Michael says:

    I can see what you mean, Alan. My first experience with hackers was the movie Hackers, so I can see their frustration with the media.

  8. Alan says:

    So I caught the segment on my DVR… came off fine, informative and you got a nice joke in at the end despite the shoot cock-block. Thing is, I’ve never read/heard of hackers being cast in a helpful vein and I have to admit that’s a tough sell. When I was in College our entire University System was hacked in a big way and those guys (now in jail) were my first real experience with hackers. So I guess now we’re supposed to see them now a some sort of mixed bag of good and bad.

  9. The Nerdist says:

    Well, first off, the two options that were ACTUALLY offered to us by Nico were 1) surrender your badges of your own free will or 2) let Defcon officials review the footage so they could decide if they should take our badges. We offered to erase any offending footage but they told us that without reviewing all of our footage they couldn’t trust that we didn’t have other offending footage. We were told “G4 has a bad repuation” whatever that means. It was a rude thing to say. They’re making it out like we said, “Fuck everybody, we’re going to do what we want!” That was NOT the case. Time and time again we tried to be as respectful as possible and continued to have difficulty shooting any interviews so we didn’t get close-ups of folks in the background. With me full in frame on a balcony, our camera guy said, “There’s no way you can make anyone out in the background,” so we shot my intro. Truthfully, if Defcon was so paranoid they should have had an official accompany us to tell us that even that wasn’t allowed. PLEASE stop trying to make it out like we willingly violated the rules. We are respectful people who did our best and unfortunately that wasn’t good enough.

    Secondly, it was NOT a sweeping crowd shot, as is being falsely represented by Defcon officials:
    It was indeed on the balcony at lockpick village but it was an intro for the piece with me full in frame. Never was there a wide shot of just the crowd, which you will see if you watch the piece today.

    It’s odd that Defcon would think that a channel devoted to technology and gaming would try to falsely represent their event. We loved it and only wanted to celebrate it while trying contribute to the good name of hacking. As I said while we were being kicked out, it does G4 NO GOOD WHATSOEVER to piss of Defcon. We’re totally on the same side, or at least I thought we were.

    This isn’t about my being truthful about what happened, this is about you getting your information straight. AT NO TIME did we get the option to remove the offending footage. That would’ve been the cool thing to do. We tried that and were treated like teen shoplifters, what with being led into a room with security guards at the door.

    I don’t know who you are or involvement with this but I have absolutely no reason to lie. Hell, it would be more punk if we did purposely violate the rules but I swear to you that we didn’t.

    Beyond that, as I said in the post, it was a truly wonderful event loaded with cool, smart people.

  10. dosman says:

    You shot video from the lockpicking village skybox of the crowd down below which was not allowed and was clearly explained to you when you got your press credentials. I know it’s hard to get a good overview of an event without the token crowd shot but it could have been done in a limited/allowed fashion, I’ve done video at these types of events myself in the past.

    The defcon goons offered you guys two choices:
    1) review the offending footage and remove the crowd shots so that you guys could stay
    2) leave now and never come back to defcon with the footage you have so far

    You guys chose option 2 when you could have continued to play by the rules. Folks, please remember that even as big as defcon is it is a PRIVATE EVENT for and by hackers. Soo soo soo many times before reporters and the media have misrepresented this community that it requires that organizers go to these great lengths to protect the privacy of attendees. It’s not “accompanying paranoia” that causes restrictions of crowd footage, it’s lessons learned from previous bad experiences from having let the media do this.

    Beyond that, I hope you guys enjoyed your time at the event. We appreciate your interest (especially in the lockpicking village 🙂 and that you came out but please be respectful of the guidelines and truthful in what actually happened.


  11. Suhaila says:

    My question is this, If hackers are so paranoid that getting filmed at such a distant that they couldn’t even be recognized gets their goat, why is there even a hacker con? That and if they’re so good at being paranoid why didn’t they notice you were filming and move far far away? Sounds like they just suck overall. (nothing against their skills, just their common sense.)

  12. Scott says:

    Too bad you’re not co-hosting AOTS tomorrow too talk about what happened.

  13. The Nerdist says:

    Well, as far as I know we’re running whatever we shot tomorrow (Tuesday) on Attack of the Show. The footage we got up to the removal was cool!

  14. Alan says:

    Fuck them drama queens and their stinking badges (politely please). Y’know, maybe this was a test to see if you could HACK their system and get a segment done.

  15. Jason C says:

    If they were that paranoid, they could have easily set up areas to shoot stand ups in. Or even your own personal event “guide” who tells you where not to look.

    Maybe they just like the thrill of kicking press out of the convention.

  16. Casi says:

    like alycia
    i live in the middle of nowhere and i hav got to know mor bout Defcon
    i also really wanna more bout that Internet Flaw Thing
    too bad bout gettin kicked out

  17. chrisallen says:

    aww crap! if anyone knows the interwebs, it’s those people. maybe their geekism surpasses ours and we will never know what goes on…

  18. Alycia says:

    What a bummer!! Do we still get to see some of the footage at least? Because, being a resident of the middle of nowhere, this is the first time hearing about Defcon and I would love to hear more about it.

  19. Mandy says:

    Aww sorry to hear about that Chris! I know they were just doing what they had to do for anonymity purposes, but it’s sad that the ONE channel that is truly techno/science friendly and genuinely wants to promote the event gets the boot. Plus that’s a badass badge, it’s okay if you shed a tear or two when it was snatched away. As your friends say ‘I’m not crying, I’ve just been cutting onions’ : ).