Hackit: Ideal Conference Badge?


In 2006, Defcon 14 premiered a unique electronic badge. All it did was blink, but it raised the bar for what was expected from a hacker conference badge. In 2007, they went from 2 LEDs to 95 in a scrolling marquee. Along with a POV mode, the badge had two capacitive switches to let the user edit the displayed text. Defcon 16’s badge featured an IR transmitter and receiver for transferring files from an SD card. It worked as a TV-B-Gone and had pads to access a USB bootloader. That was the same year that The Last Hope debuted their RFID tracking badges.

This year the official Defcon badge reacted to sound, but they were no longer the only game in town. Ninja Networks brought their 10 character party badges with a built in debugger. The Arduino compatible HackTheBadge 1.0 also made an appearance. With these new entrants into the field, we wondered what you’d want to see in your ideal badge. What badge would you want to see at next year’s Defcon? Leave you comments below and keep in mind that it should be an idea that is easy to cheaply mass produce.

UPDATED: Forgot to mention the Neighborcon 2 badge based on the GoodFET20.

[Photo: Ninja Networks]

28 thoughts on “Hackit: Ideal Conference Badge?

  1. Some crypto features would be nice. For example, the ability to transfer files from an SD card via IR securely, or to act as a secure authentication token (like SecurID). A badge that could act as a programmable smartcard would have some definite hack possibility. Perhaps programmable RFID as well. Is it simple to make an RFID clone device? Add the ability to emulate an old-fashioned magstripe card and you would truly have a useful device!

  2. this electronic badge phenomenon is starting to remind me of burning man: some talented people spend a good amount of time and money making some cool stuff… that will only be used, once, during the summer, and has zero bearing on anything outside of that timespan.

    it’s not that they’re impractical – nothing really wrong with that – it’s just that such a hullabaloo is made over impractical stuff. do you want to spend a con meeting people and learning new skills, or did you come to the con to program electronic badges?

  3. I still think an RFID version of mafia would be badass where everyone has 1 person to kill and it changed each time you made the kill. Of course it could be made hackable so long as you were always able to die.

  4. First thing that comes to mind with that many people for me is the large dataset involved. Something that tracked interactions with other badges would be cool and then do something fun with the data that came out of it.

  5. INTERACTIVITY interactivity interactivity. The badges should be able to interact with each other. wireless, rfid, IR… I don’t care. The ability to interact with each other will open up so many possibilities. From games to tracking interaction, so many possibilities.

  6. I think less is more, if the badge heads too much in a particular direction it gets typecast and less fun to hack.

    defcon16 badge had ir transfers with an sd card.

    a lot of us do go to con for a particular thing, badge hacking, lockpicking, ctf etc, you do learn new stuff and meet new people doing it.

  7. The grouping of a large number of tech types together also allows for some A-Life fun.
    Artificial life is where – through a large number of simple interactions – we see complexity emerge.

    So a badge that could find and communicate with its neighbours and flash LEDS in common, or make sounds in unison, or propogate waves through an audience could be great fun and done simply by willing participants.

    e.g. a sound on/off mode (for when in talks etc) with a piezo mic/spkr, a full color LED matrix capable of showing a matrix pattern, and IR leds for comms between units could be all that is needed – and some A-Life s/w….

  8. I had high hopes when I first heard of the ir transceiver badge. I wanted to see someone hack into the badge through the ir receiver. Write a virus that propagated throughout the conference and cause every badge in the room to go nuts during the closing ceremony.
    Would have been bad ass.

  9. The badges keep getting more complicated, and the platforms more esoteric, I’d probably design a badge that can be hacked as easily and quickly as possible. I’d also bury backdoors into the device, through any available interface (IR, LEDs, sound?), to encourage malicious (fun) hacking of other participant’s badges.

    Given the small number of hardware hackers and the short length of most CONs, I’d probably design a badge around an Arduino. Don’t take that to mean I’m a huge Arduino fan, but it might be an appropriate solution in this context. There’s lots of free tools and example code, and beginners just need a laptop and a USB cable to get started.

    For hardware, a cheap IRDA transceiver gives wireless access without regulatory issues. IRDA could be used for the interactivity and tracking suggested in previous comments. Use your unique IR identifier to register and gain entrance to parties? Leave a IR bootloader backdoor open for taking control of other people’s badges. A cheap SPI EEPROM or SRAM (or both) for logging data, perhaps spying on other people’s credentials or creating a contact list that can be read at a kiosk. Include access headers to read out the data with something like a Bus Pirate.

  10. All of these interactive badge ideas keeps popping in an idea in my head. Lets say you have a Facebook/Myspace/whatever badge. You stand next to someone with the same type of badge. Your badge connects over bluetooth or rf and has an LED for sex/age/relationship status/etc. Friend request? it updates your social networking site of choice and adds the person standing next to you. Think he/she is hot? See if they’re single ect. Maybe not such a “hack” idea as the “next generation of social networking” but it is an idea that just will not leave my head.

  11. @ian lesnet

    Im not sure i understand the whole badge hacking premise, because from just reading these last couple of articles on the badges it seems they are little more than small demo boards for people to try and come up with a cool project.

    but your idea of backdoors and security topics seems to be more in the defcon spirit as i udnerstand it (of course i could be completely wrong).

    and while i think arudinos are associated with a novice level below what i would expect from defcon, i do agree that it’s avr platform would be more fair than some of the more esoteric processors like the freescale ones used in the ninja badges.

  12. i think that they should be programable with apps available at different stalls and such. And it must be useful after the event. imagine an rfid cloner that you got to take home. you could also impliment security related things into the devices so you say communicate with things via rfid or ir to control access to certain areas. Also a points system with prizes at the end would be cool, the more you attend certain events the more points you get. and it needs a color screen. color screens are so cheep now, why not put one in a badge. i was thinking about the virus idea think http://xkcd.com/350/ but with peoples badges insted of virtual boxes.

  13. How about a badge that looked more like a badge, and less like an Arduino project board. Bit confused how something larger than my mobile phone can be considered a “badge”.

    How about something that used some form of wireless technology and allowed the owner to program their contact details into it. Then, by waving badges together and pressing some button the contact details between badges could be transferred.

    That way it’d be easy to meet people and trade contact information.

  14. Next time?

    Simply give out unlocked iPhones or better yet openmoko phones, they even have the lanyard hole in them!

    They all can communicate wirelessly, can be set up to do a DDOS on each other and things like that.

    Honestly, That is where everyone is headed. I guarentee that within the next 2 conferences we will see color LCD screen or OLED on the badge.

  15. JN5148 has zigbee pro mesh networking with decent speed data transfer (including broadcast) and a ToF ranging engine for location aware stuff (much more accurate than signal strength ranging used in the amd badge project)

    the price point is probably too high for the general badge, but is within the budget of the ninja badge.

    possible applications run into the thousands when you combine reliable encrypted packet data network with sub metre accuracy location awareness.

    i really like the idea of a remotely hackable badge though, for defcon type confrence i’m sure they would love being able to take control of some LED’s on any other persons badge they pointed there own hacked badge at. and conversely, removing the backdoor from there own badge. A badge virus would be great fun to track with location aware badge combined with only being able to hack line of sight.

  16. Here’s my 2 cents, since devalued to 1 cent…

    Put a low end CMOS camera on the thing, an Mini SD card socket. Users supply their own card.

    The thing would use IR to scan for other units. If it found one, it would exchange contact info and take a photo of the person your talking to…

    The thing could even take a shoot on a time basis, so you can relive what happened..

  17. I would love to see a badge with a small low power OLED screen. Another cool idea would be to have a small FM radio receiver with a headphone jack so you can listen in on other talks. Maybe even watch them on the OLED screen.

  18. In your history of badges, you forget the AVR butterfly, an AVR development board/badge that has been around since at least 2003. Likely there are older examples as well, this isn’t anything new.

  19. Better displays. OLED/eInk comes to mind. Or even cheap Nokia displays. I don’t know the price target, but a nice atmel ARM and a color nokia display would do wonders. But how far would it go? How much they want to spend on a badge? Maybe the addmition should be based in just a PCB with the atendees supplying the parts/code?

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