All The Unofficial Electronic Badges Of DEF CON

2015 was the year of the unofficial hardware badge at DEF CON 23. There were a ton of different hardware badges designed for the love of custom electronics and I tried to catch up with the designer of each different badge. Here is the collection of images, video demos, and build details for each one I saw this weekend.

Whiskey Pirates

[TrueControl] did a great job with his badge design this year for the Whiskey Pirate Crew. This is a great update from the badge he designed last year, keeping the skull and bones outline. It uses a PSOC4 chip to control a ton of LEDs. The eyes are RGB pixels which are each on their own PCB that is soldered onto the back of the badge, with openings for the LED to show through. Two AA batteries power the board which has a surface-mount LED matrix. The user controls are all capacitive touch. There is a spinner around one eye, and pads for select and back. The NRF24L01 radio operates at 2.4GHz. This badge is slave to commands from last year’s badge. When the two are in the same area the 2015 badges will scroll the nickname of the 2014 badge it “sees”. The piezo element also chirps many different sounds based on the interactions with different badges.

[True] makes design an art form. The matte black solder mask looks fantastic, and he took great care in use of font, size, alignment, and things like letting copper show through for a really stunning piece of hardware art.

Keep reading for ten more great badges seen over the weekend.


[Seeess] designed this badge for the DEF CON shoot. It was his first time working with microcontrollers. He programmed all of the firmware himself but did have help with the board layout. It includes a microphone, two buttons, a tilt sensor, and a six digit 7-segment display module. There are a ton of features built into it including a shot counter (based on sound), reflex sensor, VU meter (demonstrated at one of the parties), and ton of other visualizations. There’s a forum thread on the badge and the code is available, as well as several demo videos like the one found below. A nice touch is that the lanyard sold with the device (the badge was $25) glows in the dark.

Crypto Badge

The Crypto Badge was on sale for $25. It has twelve LEDs around the perimeter of the circle, with a two 4-character bubble displays and two buttons as the user interface. When you plug it in, not a lot happens. You need to enter words and codes in the interface to get the badge to do things. In addition to that cryptic interface there is a cypher on the back of the board and another on the lanyard.

The MSP430g2955 based board was has firmware written by [Karl Koscher], with hardware design by [Jorge Lacoste]. One of the coolest surprises they showed me is a mode that turns the badge into a super-low-power AM transmitter. Set it right on top of a radio and you will hear the Tetris song playing!

Car Hacking Badge

This badge could be purchased at the Car Hacking Village and includes and ODB2 plug. The set of headers and jumpers lets the user choose between the different CAN Bus connections (low speed, high speed, 1-wire). An STM32 Cortex-M0 chip drives the device and is scripted in the Pawn language.


I didn’t have any luck tracking down the maker of the Queercon 11 badge, but hopefully the webpage on the device will be updated soon. I believe it was selling for $125 and was an exquisite badge delivered in a box with some neat art on the lid. When you first turn it on, you name your character and then take it through a Tamagotchi-style life cycle. The badge is aware of other badges in the area.


The DC801 crew from Salt Lake City had a huge badge housed in a CNC milled enclosure. It has RGB LED strips on either side, and features a huge LCD display, two analog sticks, two buttons, and a rotary encoder. They do a pre-sale each year and this badge gets you into their party

There is a Propeller chip running the screen and the wireless socked for an XBee radio. An ATmega328p handles the analog sticks, rotary encoder, and buttons. 10-15 people in two hackerspaces (theTransistor and 801 Labs) worked on the project, with the former handling most of the hardware and the latter organizing the logistics of the group’s appearance at the con.

There was a snafu with the LCD supplier. The screens arrived with the wrong chipset and were not working in time for the event. This will be fixed as the FTDI chip in the unit has a bus selector switch that allows firmware update for both the Prop and the AVR.


The DC503 badge is shaped like a bicycle and creator [Joe Fitz] (@securelyfitz) used that theme well in the design. The 14 LEDs on the board are mounted on the back and shine through the substrate to the front. An ATtiny85 drives the LEDs using two PWM channels. The setup drives 4 LEDs from VCC to PWM1, and four more from PWM1 to GND. They are driven out of phase and the same trick is used on the other PWM pin. Control is provided by capacitive buttons. One on the gears speeds up rotation (as if you’re pedaling), the handlebars (where the brakes would be) slows it down.

The board is your entry into the DC503 party. The badges were acquired by crowdfunding backers. 100 boards were spun; they populated 50 for the backers and another 10 were assembled on-site for the organizers. DC503 is a group of friends in Portland, many of which are involved with the CTRL-H Hackerspace.

Mass Hackers

The MassHackers 2015 badge combines some blinky with an interesting board shape. [BTD] designed it around a TinyUSB 3.0 and it runs on a CR123A battery.

CCC 2011 Badge

I saw more than a few people wearing the Chaos Communications Camp badge from 2011. They’re showing their colors in preparation for the 2015 CCC next week which will include a super-cool SDR badge!

DEFCON DarkNet Badge

This one isn’t really “unofficial”, the DarkNet badge has become a hot item each year at DEF CON. I was unable to get one last year and this year I just barely got my hands on one. It is sold as a kit for $25 and when I tried to get one on Friday afternoon they were sold out. Another 200 were sold on Saturday morning and it was about a 90 minute wait for me and I was probably about 150th in line.

The badge was designed by [Smitty] and [Krux] (who has been a great friend of Hackaday). It is Arduino based and uses IR to communicate with other badges. You find someone wearing an assembled badge and point them at each other for a few seconds to exchange badge identifiers. This is part of the DarkNet challenge that encourages attendees to solve puzzles and try out different activities at the con. This year’s design is very similar to last year’s so take a look at that repo for more info.

Misc Badges

There were a ton of miscellaneous hardware offerings and admittedly I didn’t get pictures of very many of them. Above you can see two that [Christian] was wearing at the con. PipMan is a project on It features a color screen OLED screen and the Propeller driven wearable hangs out on a leather wristband. It shows time using GPS sync keep it accurate and includes temperature, compass, and some ancillary functions. He was also wearing an NSL Cylon v2 which is a kit for surface mount soldering practice.

Please Share

I spent a lot of time trying to track down details of these badges. If you enjoyed reading about them, please help me out by sharing this post around so that others can enjoy it as well. Thanks!


If you had a hardware badge at DEF CON that didn’t make it into this roundup, please email me (mike at the most obvious domain). I’d love to do a “badges I somehow missed at DEF CON” post!

26 thoughts on “All The Unofficial Electronic Badges Of DEF CON

      1. sigh.. i know right, first year they had a car hacking village too . . lots of electronic badges, the wife’s security gooning again and sending me all the pics. i’m not missing next year.. but it just means i’ll end up putting more effort into the layerone badge and annoying everyone again by going overboard ;)

  1. It should be noted that the Crypto and Privacy Village’s “Tetris” mode was ported from this awesome project:

    The reason this mode exists is that I wanted to do a hardware side-channel puzzle, but without requiring people to have access to any special hardware. For this challenge, all you need is the clock radio in your hotel room. I figured that transmitting an AM signal using a PWM line was possible, and after a bit of Googling, I found that project.

    It should also be noted that unlike that project, the badge hardware was not designed with this challenge in mind. There’s no filtering, etc. It’s just an LED driven by the MSP430.

  2. Okay, these badges are not the official badge to show to get into the convention, right?
    Or are they acceptable substitutes?
    Do they identify certain participating groups/clubs?
    Do they compete for “Best in Show”?
    I’m impressed with all the work that goes into them, but it seems to me that if they are unofficial, what is the official badge?

    1. It lets you visibly signify that you belong to a clique. Defcon is all about the clique’s. Since it’s so huge it’s understandable, but also annoying. Defcon is as much about working your social connections to improve your access to parties as much as the tech. Also the badges tend to (but not always) seem to get you access to the more exclusive parties. On the other side as a host, you can’t just let 1000 randos wander into your private party, so again it’s annoying but part of the game. The last year I was able to go, the Ninja party was thing to get into. This was accomplished by winning a contest which won you a Ninja badge of course (or borrowing one for the night).

      1. I can’t agree with wakkawakka more. Our group of friends made a badge so we can quickly identify true insiders at our own parties. Sometimes the window of opportunity to say hi to someone is very small so if you see someone with your own group’s badge, you made an extra effort to see how you may know that person. We went from 20 badges last year, to 175 color coded badges this year.. Adding to this “I’m better than you” vibe that will just radiate from you.. I hate that part of the badge and I agree with wakkawakka that is the drawback to the growing badge clique problem that my friend described to me last year as “me too.” As in everyone wants to design their own badge. DEF CON needs a “curb jumper,” i.e. something that has all the positives but none of the negatives that wearing your clique chain has. T-Shirts? LOL love to hear some curb jumper ideas that are better than everyone making their own badge.

  3. Dc23 was my first time at Defcon. The difficulty in getting the darknet badge and even attending the talks were disappointing.

    Is it always such a crap shoot to get into anything or was it the new venue?

  4. Mike, A hardware write up, general feature breakdown, schematics and BOM for the Queercon Badge are available here:

    It needs to be updated with post-con info, but I need to sleep first ^_^

    Software wise, each badge had a character composed of different head, feet, and bodies compiled from a common pool. Every badge had only one other badge with the same character (their “twin”), but would share elements with others. Organizer badges had custom built characters and also were built in matte black.

    The badges communicated with nearby badges via the 915MHz network, indicating the presence of other badges both by flashing the LEDs faster and showing a count in the menu. The badges kept track of which other badges (based on name and unique ID) it had seen, explicitly “friended”, and been around the most. Friending was simply a menu option that allowed two badges to explicitly pair, rather than the passive “seen” pairing.

    Other features included the ability to “play” with other badges (basically just make their character dance and lower his mood a bit) and, after the feature was unlocked, have other badges flash the LEDs in the colors of your chosen flag. Flag options were various, but included the rainbow, bi, trans, ally, leather, and bear flags. Titles were awarded for doing certain things like attending events of friending all the organizer badges as well. Cheat codes were available too.

    I expect the software guys will have a better write up available in the coming months, but also feel free to contact me or any of the rest of the badge team with any questions. Source code, schematics, and BOM will be available ASAP on the QC website.

    1. Oh! And I should add the badges were available as a reward for certain donations to Queercon, but were also passed out for free at Queercon events during Defcon. They were never technically for sale… as fine as that line can be.

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