Lock Picking Your Way to Cybersecurity at Def Con

Lock picking might seem ridiculously old-fashioned at a cybersecurity gathering -- but learning it can actually help people protect machines from digital threats.

As security improves to block remote attacks over the internet, hackers look for ways to deliver malicious software physically instead -- for instance, by breaking into a company's data centers. Like cracking a digital system, picking locks involves solving puzzles, along with a certain amount of finesse and skill.

And for the good guys, knowing how to pick locks is important for learning how to defend against it.

The recent Def Con security conference in Las Vegas had one section devoted to hands-on lock picking. Getting a seat was tough. At times, the tables looked like knitting circles, with participants at various skill levels looking intense as they used tiny rakes and tension bars to pop open a variety of practice door and padlocks.

Tools were shared. Experts offered advice. Shouts of joy erupted when someone finally cracked a tough lock. Locks and tools also proved to be popular souvenirs, with a conference store nearby doing brisk business.

A Puzzling Badge

You can't host a gathering for creative people who love to tinker and just give them the same, old plastic badge hanging from a lanyard. Def Con's electronic badges are both cool to look at and full of puzzles to decipher.

Last's year's badge was a fully mastered, playable, 7-inch vinyl record. This year's badges were shaped like a skull, and LED lights in their eyes and mouth seem to light up at random.

The badge itself, powered by a 3-volt battery in its chin, features a mini processor and buttons that look like the controller for an old-school video gaming system. Attendees quickly discovered they can set off a light show by using the buttons to enter the "Konami Code," a video game...

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