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05 August 2007 Blog Home : August 2007 : Permalink

Undercover Hack Outed At Defcon

So you're a fearless investigative TV producer and you want to catch government folks in the act of discussing stuff with evil hackers. Obvious plan. Head to Defcon in Las Vegas undercover and get your story using a secret spy camera.

Of course it would help if the evil hackers hadn't been warned in advance so that "Spot the fed" becomes "Spot the undercover reporter". Although seeing as you'd been asked 4 times if you wanted a press badge and you denied needing it (that would be one more time than St Peter denied having anything to do with Jesus), you might have realized the game was up. And if you or your colleagues read tech blogs or actually attended more than a couple of sessions you might even have figured out that the game was up before you were outed:

UPDATE 2: NBC's mole, Michelle Madigan, became the target of predators herself this afternoon when she was outed at DefCon as an undercover reporter and bolted out of the conference hotel with about two dozen reporters with cameras and others chasing after her -- in the manner of an NBC Dateline To Catch a Predator episode.

According to DefCon staff, Madigan had told someone she wanted to out an undercover federal agent at DefCon. That person in turn warned DefCon about Madigan's plans. Federal law enforcement agents from FBI, DoD, United States Postal Inspection Service and other agencies regularly attend DefCon to gather intelligence on the latest techniques of hackers. DefCon holds an annual contest called Spot the Fed, in which attendees out people in the audience they think are undercover federal agents. The contest is good-natured, but the feds who get caught are generally ones who don't mind getting caught.

DefCon staff say that Madigan was asked four times -- two times on the phone and two times at the conference -- if she wanted to obtain press credentials, but she declined.

DefCon staff lured her to a large hall telling her that the Spot the Fed contest was in session and that she could get a picture of an undercover federal agent at the contest. When she sat down, Jeff Moss, DefCon's founder, announced that they were changing the game. Instead of Spot the Fed, they were going to play Spot the Undercover Reporter and then announced, "And there's one in here right now." Madigan, realizing she'd been had, jumped from her seat and bolted out the door with reporters carrying cameras chasing after her through the parking lot and to her car.