August 2, 2013, 10:30 a.m., Rio Hotel & Casino.
The iPhone in my purse is off. So is the laptop I left in the car. You can’t be too careful. This is DEF CON, after all.
I’m at the infamous annual hacker conference for a story about casino security for Las Vegas Weekly, and so far I’ve learned not to use the Wi-Fi, definitely not to log onto anything with a weird name and that undercover feds don’t give high fives to kids with cardboard signs asking them to do just that. The tin foil-covered cowboy hat I saw pass by was cute, but it’s powerless against the types roaming these halls, competing in hackersports and listening to talks on femtocells, infiltrating open government systems and, of course, robots.
I’m looking for my next interview when I spot a kid in glasses sitting on a bench. Naturally, I hover over him and wait an awkward 30 seconds before I start talking.
Me: Hi, my name’s Sarah and I’m working on a story for a local magazine. Could I ask you a few questions?
Kid: Uh, I’m not really comfortable with that.
Me: It’s okay, I don’t have to use your name. It’s just about how a casino like Rio deals with security when a conference like DEF CON is here.
Kid: I’m not comfortable answering any questions.
I’ve already employed my perkiest voice and there are thousands of other people wearing the totally hackable DEF CON 21 badge that looks like a playing card, so I give up. Fine. Be uncomfortable! But the hallway is suddenly packed with attendees shuffling in the opposite direction of where I want to go. I’m stuck next to Uncomfortable Glasses Kid, and now I’m the one feeling uncomfortable. I stare into my notebook as if it contained some secret that I hadn’t just written. Finally, he speaks:
Kid: Excuse me, do you know what time it is?
He’s holding a smart phone in his hand, looking at it as he asks me. Out of instinct I check my wrist, but it’s bare. I’m about to reach for my phone, when I remember that it’s off. That’s right, I’m at a hacker conference, talking to a hacker who’s holding his own phone and is too uncomfortable to give me an anonymous interview.
Me: No, I don’t. I’m sorry.