As talks at the DefCon hacker conference have become increasingly sophisticated and technical over the con’s two decades, the conference badge has evolved to keep pace, morphing from simple PVC and metal plates into electronic gizmos with chips, circuit boards and games begging to be hacked.
This year’s badge, designed and produced by Ryan Clarke (aka LostboY, or LosT for short) continues that tradition, with some new twists.
Clarke, who’s also the creator behind DefCon’s annual Mystery Box Challenge, is a crypto and puzzle master who has been involved in DefCon for 13 years.
He felt that previous badges required hardware hacking skills that raised the bar too high for attendees whose talents were focused on software hacking.
So this year he’s designed an electronic badge that includes an embedded game. But figuring out the badge’s secrets requires hardware and software hacking skills, as well as puzzle and crypto acumen appealing to the math and language geeks in the crowd. His plan is to force attendees with different skills to combine their talents to crack the badge’s mysteries.
“Those doing the hardware hacks will have to find someone to do the puzzle side,” Clarke says. “It will drive them to find someone from the other side of the house.”
Each year, several badges are produced for different categories of conference attendees and participants – attendees get Human badges, and there are also badges for press, vendors, speakers and goons (the volunteers who are the core of DefCon, managing its network, security and speakers).
The black box in the picture above conceals the Uber badge – Uber badges are the black badges given at the end of the conference each year to winners of the DefCon contests. The badge gives the holder a lifetime of free admission to DefCon. Clarke has embedded a crypto puzzle on the Uber badges that will only be revealed to badge recipients on Sunday – though they may decide to scan the puzzle and put it online.
This year, Clarke has added a new badge for artists, which will be handed out to the artists and musicians who will be performing or participating at the con.
The Goon badges, the red ones (above) with a scarab beetle on them, are designed to affect other badges as the goons pass conference attendees. Clarke’s personal badge, as well as the badge of conference founder Jeff Moss, will also have an effect on other badges in their vicinity.
“In theory,” Clarke says, “it should be possible to figure out where we are by looking at the residual effect on other badges. It’s kind of like you leave behind a wake of information.”