Sat. Oct 1st, 2022
the unadorned
enlarge DEFCON 27’s plain “human” badge: hackable jewelry.

Joe Grand/ DEFCON

LAS VEGAS—There are many things that make the DEFCON conference stand out above all other hacking conferences. It is, of course, the largest, with more than 30,000 visitors spread across four Las Vegas hotels this year. And there are the villages, each of them self-contained conferences that appeal to specific security and hacking communities. But the most visible, connecting part of DEFCON are the badges.

The electronic DEFCON badges – used for a time every two years because of the effort and budget put into them – are quintessentially the means of transportation for a unifying game. Last year’s badge was a clever puzzle challenge with a social element and even a built-in text-based adventure. However, this year’s badges were both deceptively simple and cunningly complex, designed to allow DEFCON participants to interact with each other and explore the entire conference rather than fall too deep into a badge rabbit hole.

Joe Grand, (aka “Kingpin”), the designer of DEFCON’s first-ever electronic, hackable badges (used for DEFCON’s 14 through 18) returned to the task for this year’s 27e edition of the event at the request of DEFCON founder Jeff Moss (“Dark Tangent”). Just before DEFCON kicked off, Grand spoke to Ars about the design of this year’s badge and the effort it took to set up a true electronic quest for about 30,000 friends.

Badge for life

Grand said Moss called me out of the blue at the end of December [2018] and he says, “Hey, do you want to do the DEFCON badge?” Well, it was a decent amount of time…it would have been better if the day after the last DEFCON.”

Grand agreed, as he had traveled much of 2018 speaking and teaching, “and I wanted to stay at home … if this was a great opportunity to stay at home, work on a project, can I see my family more, I won’t be on the road. Of course that shows that I had forgotten the difficulty of actually designing badges.” Greatly recognized.

The job of releasing the DEFCON badge “is a full-time effort,” Grand said. “That’s why they call it ‘badge life’.”

Grand told Moss that he wanted to do something simple “that can appeal to as many people as possible because the puzzles that have been done are great, but I didn’t want to exclude people. I kind of put myself in that mindset of like, what if I first going to DEFCON? How would that feel?”

The delivery of the badges needed for DEFCON 27 came to a point, and Grand had to move production straight from the first working prototype to full production. It’s a minor technological marvel that the badges had a relatively low failure rate at the conference — and many of those errors were a result of the hacks performed by attendees.

Grand originally started designing DEFCON badges as part of an effort “to raise awareness about hardware and hardware hacking at DEFCON,” he said. “At first we didn’t know how people would react, so we did a simple kind of artistic badge. And people really liked it.”

After DEFCON 14, electronic badges gradually took on a life of their own. “Little by little, you’ll see other badges appear, with people making their own badges for their parties,” Grand recalls. “And it was really exciting to see this growth. Then every year I would always be competing with myself. I’m like ‘what can I do better, what technique can I try, what new art thing can I try?’ And my design aesthetic has always been, even with professional products I make, just really simple, effective stuff. Like I’m not a puzzle, my brain doesn’t work like a puzzle master.”

After his fifth year, when the “badge life” fully blossomed, “I said I would never do it again because I… [already] spoke my opinion, right? I had created the artwork I wanted to do and shared that side of me with other people and whatever. But I always said that if Jeff ever asked me to do it again, I would.”

magic crystals

The image that served as the basis for the theme of DEFCON 27.
enlarge The image that served as the basis for the theme of DEFCON 27.

“Jeff sent me a photo of the conference theme, for his idea of ​​the theme of ‘Technology’s Promise,'” Grand said. “And it was all pastels and clouds and a woman with a laptop. It was a 1970s ad about the future of technology – the good side of technology. Instead of technology owning you, it’s whether technology has you And I saw that picture and I was like, something was like crystals. I don’t know, it seemed kind of new age-y.”

Moss later posted the image via DEFCON’s Twitter account.

The theme was the flip side of DEFCON 26’s “1983” tone — the “the inflection point between disorder and dystopia,” as Moss had put it in a Twitter post. The DEFCON 27 theme, Moss said, would be about “a major-key, blue-sky thoughtscape…a future where we’ve tamed some of the demons that now plague us, and technology supports and inspires rather than controls.” and to supervise.”

That idea of ​​crystals resulted in the deceptively simple design of the DEFCON 27 badge collection: a printed circuit board, itself a work of art of digital art, bonded to a piece of hand-cut and hand-polished Brazilian quartz. For speaker, artist, press and other “colored” insignia, the quartz was painted; rose quartz squares were used for the red “goon” (volunteer) badges. “Each of the 28,500 pieces we’ve made is unique because it’s hand-cut crystal,” Grand said. “The quartz will vary in translucency or transparency, so we put pictures behind it so you can sometimes see it.”

It was the badge as jewelry – the badges could be worn on a wristband sold in DEFCON’s swag shop, or as a headband, or (as I wore it) as a bolo tie. The badge lanyard can be pulled through “straps” that are “basically high current jumpers for industrial electronics” made in Japan, Grand explained. (Some attendees who attached their badges to their lanyards with the supplied metal hooks managed to short out their badges as a result.)

There was a method to this madness. “There are a lot of badges everywhere,” Grand explained, “so… [Moss] and I was like, what if we move the stack up a bit so that the DEFCON badge has one and it fits on the cord? So it’s going to be sort of a push-through, and now your badge is on the cord, so it’s more visible.”

Some components are quite unusual or have never been used in hackable badges before. “I’ve tried to use some pretty ridiculously complex components,” Grand said.

By akfire1

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