What’s the Secret of Cyphercon?

Cyphercon is not particularly large, or in a glamorous part of the world — in fact most people who came in from out of town had to fight snow to make it. Yet when I stepped into the con last Thursday there was no doubt something awesome was in progress. People were camped out in small groups, working furiously on their computers, talks were packed with people who came alive in the Q&A, and everywhere you looked you found people deep in conversation with friends old and new. If you missed out on Cyphercon 4.0, you need to make an effort to be here for 5.0.

Join me after the break for the highlights of this two-day security conference nestled in the heart of Milwaukee.

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Cyphercon Badge Has a Paper Tape Reader Built In

Cyphercon 4.0 came to life in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on Thursday and the conference badge is a brilliant and engaging design. At first glance it looks like a fairly mundane rectangular badge. But a closer look reveals simplistic elegance wrapping around some clever mechanical design and the awesome interactive mechanism of being able to read paper tape.

That’s right, this badge can read the series of holes punched in the long paper strips you normally associate with old iron of 50 years ago.

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This Week: Cyphercon 4.0

Dust off your rainbow tables and grab a  burner laptop, this Thursday, April 11,  Cyphercon 4.0 roars into Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It’s a security conference with all that entails, but there is a bit of emphasis on crypto. A founding principle of Cyphercon is to support a  “free and open discussion on strong cryptography”.

You’ll find 10 community submitted puzzles to get warmed up for solving clever challenges. There’s a wireless capture-the-flag challenge to boost your wireless sniffing/spoofing skills using simple tools like Raspberry Pi and the YARD stick One (which we just saw doing keyless entry attacks). As you’d expect, a wide range of talks from well know security professionals has been planned.

Cyphercon 3.0 Badge

There’s a few talks I’m particularly interested in seeing. Vi Grey’s talk on NES ROM polyglots is a can’t miss for me even though I’ve I’ve read about his work at length. Oh, and you know all those 23andMe DNA tests? Michelle Meas has a talk about what happens when genome databases from companies like that get breached. Eric Escobar isn’t just running the wireless CTF, but giving a talk along with Matt Orme on hardware for remote wireless pen testing. And I’m a sucker for talks from legal experts so Amit Elazari Bar On’s presentation on legal issue with bug bounty programs is very high on my list.

But these are just the things that are formally planned at the conference. I missed out on last year’s Cyphercon and heard the badge hacking challenges were on-point. I’m looking forward to seeing what they can come up with this time around! I’ll report back on what I encounter… I’m hoping to run into you there!

The Cubic Cyphercon Badge

Last week in Milwaukee was Cyphercon, Wisconsin’s premier hacker conference. You can’t do a hacker con without either an electronic conference badge or a 45 hanging off a lanyard, and the Cyphercon 2017 badge doesn’t disappoint. It’s an electronic cube, lovingly designed by the folks at tymkrs. It’s also a puzzle box with security holes and wireless communications. It’s a mesh network of badges, and one of the best conference badges we’ve ever seen.

The most obvious feature of the Cyphercon 2.0 badge is the extra dimension. From the outset, the design of this badge was a 3-dimensional cube, constructed out of beautifully crafted PCBs and soldered together at the edges. The techniques to bring PCBs into the third dimension are really nothing new — we’ve seen 3D PCBs before — but never at this kind of volume. There were over four hundred badges constructed for Cyphercon, and every single joint was hand-soldered. This is something your assembly house just won’t do, and I would hate to think about the poor solder monkeys that would be forced to assemble 3D badges for a larger con.

3D isn’t the only trick up the Cyphercon badge. There are cutouts in each side of the cube exposing LEDs, microprocessors, busses, and a single USB port. This USB port allows the wearer to recharge the battery, yes, but if you install a terminal emulator on your laptop and plug in the badge, you’re dropped into a world of mystery, intrigue, and suffocation. This badge is a text adventure game, with the goal of a game to reassemble a relay-based computer from parts scrounged from around a missile silo. Once the relay computer is complete, the badge turns into an emulator for a vintage time-sharing operating system. In this OS, you’re able to write code and deploy it to other badges. This is seriously impressive stuff.

Between the cubic Cyphercon badge, the Hunter S. Rodriguez badge heading to Vegas this summer, and badges that are Nintendo emulators, this is looking like a great year for electronic conference badges. The artistry and skill here is amazing, and we can’t wait to see what else the community will come up with.

Below, you can check out a few videos on the Cypbercon badge. [Wire]’s explanation of how the badge was created over the last nine months is in there, as is the Cyphercon badge panel talk.

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