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Here’s What You Missed at Black Hat and Defcon

August 6, 2016, 11:28 AM UTC
Mr. Robot - Season 2
MR. ROBOT -- Hacked by DefCon and Mr. Robot at Tribeca Film Festival -- Pictured: Jeff Moss A.K.A. "The Dark Tangent" -- (Photo by: Dave Kotinsky/USA Network/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Dave Kotinsky—USA Network NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Greetings from Las Vegas, where Black Hat and Defcon, the world’s biggest code cracking confabs, took place this week. If you tried to contact me, our communications were probably intercepted. Oh well.

Some highlights from the desert:

Attendees witnessed the world’s impending cybernetic future Thursday evening as seven supercomputers exchanged virtual blows, each vying to win a first-of-its-kind autonomous hacking competition hosted by DARPA, the military’s futuristic research arm. The machine melee signaled a coming, if nascent age of “self-driving” cyber defense. (Congrats to Carnegie Mellon’s team Mayhem, whose AI took home the $2 million grand prize—and the glory!)

Ivan Krstić, head of security engineering at Apple (AAPL), took the stage at Black Hat earlier that day to unveil—at long last—the company’s first-ever bug bounty program. Beginning in September, the tech giant is inviting a curated set of hackers to find and report vulnerabilities in its code for rewards as high as $200,000. Though the payouts are greater than just about any other bug bounty program’s, exploits sold on grayer markets can reach the million-dollar range.

Jeff Moss, founder of Black Hat and Defcon, cohosted a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton in a cramped Mexican restaurant at the Mandalay Bay hotel on Wednesday night. Beneath the din of mariachi music, the shaggy-haired figurehead within the hacking community told me he had more hope that Clinton would protect Internet freedoms than Donald Trump—despite the Democratic candidate’s wishy-washy stance on encryption.

While wandering about the showroom floor, I encountered a surprising recruiter wedged between Cisco (CSCO), Paypal (PYPL), and Raytheon’s (RTN) Forcepoint: Snapchat. The ephemeral messaging firm is apparently staffing up its security team. Unfortunately, a booth attendant shooed this reporter away and refused to answer questions about the company’s presence. Worth noting: if Snapchat wants to lock down its intellectual property, its probably too late for that.

Okay, that’s my recap. Defcon is still underway, but I’m headed back to the east coast to catch a graduation party for a younger cousin. I look forward to connecting to the Wi-Fi network in my own home, where fewer hackers and eavesdroppers lurk (I hope).

Have a great weekend, readers.