High-profile hacker conference DEF CON has been accused of “selling out” by longtime attendees on social media after organizers announced that US Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas will be a keynote speaker this year.
The annual convention, which typically sees several thousand people in attendance, is one of the world’s largest hacker events. The 29th edition of the conference is scheduled to be held in Las Vegas early next month.
In recent years, DEF CON has opened its doors to tech experts from US government agencies and the corporate sector. However, the inclusion of Mayorkas – a trained lawyer and career public servant – prompted a flurry of angry reactions from other speakers, conference veterans and other members of the hacker community.
Over the weekend, the organizers put out a tweet to welcome Mayorkas, lauding his “wealth of experience” and “leadership on #cyber” and other “insights.” Several social media users questioned their choice of keynote speaker, wondering what exactly his tech credentials were.
One person commented that perhaps he could be asked about “the amount of data processed” to allow Mayorkas “to deport 2.1 million Mexicans when he was deputy secretary [of the Homeland Security Department]” during the second Obama administration.
Another individual suggested that Mayorkas could be asked for his thoughts on “recycling server cabinets as cages” to house illegal immigrants and whether that would be a “sustainability goal” to support.
Meanwhile, one of the main speakers at the event, Ian Coldwater, said he was “disappointed” with the organizers and wondered whether “we really need to be hearing from the guy in charge of baby cage operations right now, at this particular historical juncture?”
Think of the world we live in right now. Think of the last few years. Do we really need to be hearing from the guy in charge of baby cage operations right now, at this particular historical juncture? Is that the best thing to do for the community? For the world?
— Ian Coldwater ?? (@IanColdwater) July 23, 2021
Some users pointed to a “major inconsistency” in the choice of keynote speaker and DEF CON’s “broader content selection process,” with one person wondering whether it was a “hacker conference, except when it’s a keynote.”
According to the event’s ‘Call for Papers’ page, all content at the event should “support the hacker mindset” instead of submissions better suited for “cybersecurity industry conferences” that do not align with the “culture, spirit and subject matter” appropriate to a “hacking con.”
Others wondered if the tweet was sent “under duress,” with one person citing the “abnormal” choice of keynote speaker, the use of “stock corporate terms” and the “unironic use of #cyber.” Another asked why DEF CON was “tweeting like a medium-sized corporation that no one cares about?”
The organizers also announced that Mayorkas would participate in a “between two servers style interview” with DEF CON founder Jeff Moss, who goes by the hacker name ‘Dark Tangent’. Several users termed it “disgraceful” on the organizers’ part to “entertain this embarrassment.”
In response to the criticism, Moss tweeted, “DHS is civilian, not military, and with all the new authorities CISA [Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency] has, they are going to be increasingly involved. The current administration is not the previous one.”
He later added that “policy comes from the top down, so to understand CISA priorities it would help to know the Secretaries – or the Presidents.”
Or put even more bluntly: we care a lot more than just Cyber. And the general mass opinion is that DHS has a lot to answer for, thanks to its actions under previous administrations. Unfortunately, @SecMayorkas is going to have to labor under that shadow for quite some time.
— APT 303 is Infosec Zathras. (@bluknight) July 24, 2021
Some users said this was nothing new for DEF CON while others pointed out that the event’s annual ‘Spot the Fed’ game was not “supposed to be this easy.” In a long-running joke at the conference that plays on the open secret about federal agencies infiltrating the event, attendees are given prizes for identifying agents.
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