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DEF CON Kids To Get Badges That Hack

Who says grown-ups should have all the fun with their DEF CON badges?

If the shiny LED light on my DEF CON badge suddenly go dark this week at the hacker conference, I'll know who to blame. Not some security researcher or stealthy hacker messing with me or other members of the press. Nope. It'll be a tween -- or younger -- who bricks my badge's blinky light.

DEF CON Kids, now in its third year and renamed r00tz kids at DEF CON, is giving the first 175 kids who register for this year's conference, which opens this Friday in Las Vegas, a specially crafted badge that lets them do some hands-on hacking of their own -- including shutting down or selecting the color of the LED on a member of the press' badge, as well as Mom and Dad's. (Note to fellow nervous members of the press: The kid has to be at least six feet away from you to control your badge.)

Security expert James Arlen, a senior consultant at Leviathan Security Group, and his 11-year-old daughter, Amelia, are designing the badges, which Arlen (Dad) says is actually more complex than any of the previous DEF CON badges for grown-ups.

"It is the first, as far as we can tell, conference badge equipped with six co-processors slaved to a master processor. It also puts out a significant amount of light with all of the LEDs firing. Also, it utilizes the now common Arduino platform" to make it simple for the kids to do their own programming of the device, Arlen says.

There's a flashlight function on the badge, too, thanks to Amelia, who has been heavily involved with the hands-on assembly of the badges. She was up until 2 a.m. one night "picking and placing" LEDs onto the boards, Arlen says.

What does Amelia have planned for her dad's badge? "Apparently, his is special, so you can't do anything to it," she says, audibly disappointed.

Out of the box, the r00tz kids at DEF CON badge comes with a trackball, a speaker, a white LED, programmable color LEDs, and an infrared receiver. The kids will also get a joystick and wires to modify the wiring of their badges, and some other nifty surprises for customizing their badges.

There's also a speaker element that can be used to detect or create vibration. A kid could program her badge to unlock a door if someone uses the "magic" knock sequence, for instance. Kids will also be able to set up their badges to communicate with one another and play games.

In the end, each kid's badge will probably end up looking and operating differently, Arlen says. "I doubt any kid will be running the same personality for the badge," he says.

Vendor partners behind the kid badges are AT&T, Lookout, .secure, and Wickr, as well as hardware support and supplies from Parallax, Atmel, Element14/Newark, and Instructables.

r00tz has an honor code for its up-and-coming young hackers that spells out the a hacking for good credo. "Only hack things you own," the honor code says. "Do not hack anything you rely on. Respect the rights of others. Know the law and the possible risk and consequences for breaking it. Find a safe playground."

The conference is for kids between 8 and 16 years old.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Add Your Comment" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message. Kelly Jackson Higgins is Senior Editor at DarkReading.com. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise Magazine, ... View Full Bio

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