Serious Mischief

Encrypt your Wi-Fi and watch your smartphone for unusual behavior if you’re near the Rio from July 26-29, because Defcon, the annual hacker convention, is back in town for its 20th year.

Before you descend into your lead-lined underground apocalypse bunker trembling in fear of identity thieves, relax. The computer wizzes aren’t here to wreak havoc on your Facebook page. They’ve got bigger goals—perhaps infiltrating the Army’s supply system and ordering two tons of Cheez Doodles for the hell of it. But if you happen to be in the vicinity of the convention and surfing a Wi-Fi network without any form of security (VPN, SSH, etc.), you just might be made a public example on the Defcon “Wall of Sheep,” with your domain IP, log-in and partial password (they’re nice enough not to show the whole thing) on display.

The usual staples are in place for 2012, such as the badge-hacking contest (the conference badges have computer components), the Lockpick Village and QueerCon for the LGBT set. Speaker sessions range from the peculiar (“How to Channel Your Inner Henry Rollins”) to the socially significant (“Can Twitter Really Help Expose Psychopath Killers’ Traits?” and “DIY Electric Car”).

The hackers at the conference are usually a diverse group: Many hack for the fun or challenge of it; others work as computer-security specialists, learning software weaknesses and hacking trends to make their respective companies more secure.

It costs $200 to attend all four days—cash only at the door (hackers apparently don’t like leaving digital fingerprints).

And beware of rogue ATMs—the hackers once caught a fake at the convention.