Technology has become a major theme in the Olympics. This is not news. But last night as I watched the opening ceremonies from London, I saw so much tech on display that it looked like a product placement parade: The athletes had their iPhones, Androids and Handycams in hand recording the event for their Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest feeds. The whole stadium had been rigged to display digital images and messages, including World Wide Web inventor and Knight Commander of the British Empire Sir Tim Berners-Lee's Olympic shout-out tweet.
Meanwhile, in Las Vegas, a different kind of Olympics is unfolding this weekend, with athletes testing their skills, determination and courage in digital contests. DEFCON 20 might not be as grand as the London games, and its athletes might not complete in high tech swimsuits, but its stars are just as inspiring.
DEFCON is one of the oldest and most important hacker conventions in the world. It started out as a party 19 years ago and grew into a serious and fun celebration of the Hacking Arts. If you're still one of those folks who thinks "hacking" is a dirty word, then you need to update that 56KB Modem.
One of the most significant parts of DEFCON is the hacking games. Just like Olympic athletes, hackers love to compete. But unlike the Olympic contests, the results of hacking contests are not just fame and glory: Hacking games result in a safer, more secure world. The elite hacker teams competing in Crack Me If You Can make sure that phishers have a much more difficult time stealing the digital goods protected by your passwords. Winning techniques are published and released to the public so that operating system providers like Google, Microsoft and Apple can harden their authentication systems against the black hats and script kiddies.
Last year at DEFCON 19, a 10-year-old girl hacker known only as CyFi, announced her discovery of a security flaw in iPhone and Android games. That year, CyFi co-founded DEFCON Kids as a companion event to DEFCON, with contests and sessions so kids could safely participate in all the hacking fun. This year at DEFCON 20, the contributions of CyFi and her adult hacker pals were officially recognized by NSA Director General Keith Alexander. While CyFi didn't win a gold medal, it was great to see that the people responsible for keeping our homeland safe from cybercrime recognize the contribution of ethical hacking.
I would love to see hacking become an Olympic sport or at least be recognized as an activity as important to society as dressage!