Reporting from Black Hat: When enemies start treating each other like friends, watch your back

black hat enemies friends gen alexander crop 2
NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander address Black Hat

Mr. Worst Case Scenario is Digital Trends’ paranoid, squinty-gazed, perpetually on-edge security correspondent. And he’s prepared for anything to go wrong, dammit. This week, he’ll slither out of his underground bunker in Montana, don his tinfoil hat and attend DefCon 2013 in Las Vegas.

Here’s a little advice: When enemies start treating each other like friends, watch your back.

This vital lesson, one of my 19 Maxims of Survival, permeated throughout Wednesday’s talks at Black Hat, the other hacker conference in Sin City this week. Unlike DefCon, which clicks into first gear today, the misnamed Black Hat caters to “white hat” hackers, those so-called good guys of cybersecurity, who spend their days plugging holes before criminals come and inject their various systems with some cross between Angry Birds and chlamydia.

After what I saw today, however, I wouldn’t even let any these people watch my cats, let alone my digital security.

Black Hat rolled off the line at 9am in the Augustus ballroom of Caesar’s Palace with a keynote from none other than King Spy himself, NSA Director General Keith B. Alexander. Given the current ire toward the NSA, one can imagine ten trillion excused for why Alexander might have called in sick for this gig. Nobody wants to sand in front of a room of 2,000 grumps seething with righteous indignation. But like any good soldier, he climbed up to that podium, and did what he had to do – public relations.

After what I saw today, however, I wouldn’t even let any these people watch my cats, let alone my digital security.

After a lovey introduction from Black Hat General Manager Trey Ford that could have come from the pages of an NSA brochure, Alexander took the podium to promise us nothing but “the facts” – a telltale sign that somebody’s about to feed you a cow pie.

“The issue that stands before us today is one of ‘what do we do next?’” said Alexander. “How do we start this discussion on defending our nation and protecting our civil liberties and privacy?

“The reason I’m here is because you may have some ideas of how we can do it better. And we need to hear those ideas. But equally important, from my perspective, is that you get the facts.”

And by “facts,” Alexander meant all the government-approved talking points that have clobbered us over the head since Snowden went AWOL: No civil liberties are being infringed, no laws are being broken, the secretive court that “oversees” the NSA is a vicious defender of the Constitution, and the terrorists are still losing. Give ol’ Uncle Sam a high five!

About the fifth time that Alexander repeated what “noble folks” his subordinates at the NSA are, a heckler who reportedly goes by the name Joe McCoy shouted “Freedom!” Without missing a beat, Alexander retorted, “Exactly. We stand for freedom.”

“Bullshit!” blurted McCoy. The crowd roared with applause.

But in the blink of an eye, Alexander wooed the crowd with some of his verbal magic, which I won’t repeat here for fear of spreading the spell. They cheered his comebacks, clapped at his bold statements of duty and honor. By the end, Alexander had the Black Hat crowd eating out of his spit-shined shoes.

Were this cozy relationship an isolated incident, I could have written it off some side effect of poison-laced air being pumped into the Augustus room.

Were this cozy relationship between the hackers and the Powers the Be an isolated incident, I could have written it off some side effect of poison-laced air being pumped into the Augustus room. But I saw this beast at each and every turn throughout the day.

After Alexander’s speech, I witnessed a room of free men giggling it up to jokes told by the FBI’s Chief Information Security Officer Patrick Reidy. Down the hall, security researchers Tom Ritter and Doug DePerry pretended to disclose a vulnerability in two Verizon femtocells – but really, they’d told Verizon about the problem months ago, and the issue was already fixed. That’s not disclosure, hot shots. That’s showing off.

During a press conference, hacker SeungJin ‘Beist’ Lee rattled off about his ability to spy on people in their living rooms through their smartTVs. And in the next sentence, he admitted to signing a contract with a certain “Korean” television maker whose “name starts with an ‘S.’” The name is Samsung, Lee. And you’re what any self-respecting American would call a sell out.

Even Karsten Nohl, the man behind a half-impressive SIM card hack, said the one thing the media didn’t emphasize enough in their reporting of his discovery was how goddamn awesome the wireless carriers are. They deserve a lot of praise, he said. But he’s German, so what can you expect?

When I landed at McCarran Airport Tuesday night, my biggest fear was a hacker sneaking child porn onto my laptop. After Wednesday, however, I can now see how evil is stacked against us in a much more serious way. Good and bad are synonymous in this world of hackers. The hawks are nesting with the snakes. And the mice, well, we have nowhere to run.

Over and out.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

Digital Trends Live

Microsoft has #*!@ed up to-do lists on an epic scale

Microsoft has mucked up to-do lists on a scale you simply can’t imagine, a failure that spans multiple products and teams, like a lil’ bit of salmonella that contaminates the entire output from a factory.
Gaming

Immerse yourself in a new universe with these incredible PSVR games

The PSVR has surpassed expectations and along with it comes an incredible catalog of games. There's plenty of amazing experiences to be had so we've put together a list of the best PSVR games available today.
Deals

Amazon drops prices on Roomba robot vacuums by up to $150

Amazon is offering discounts on iRobot Roombas and other robot vacuums to help you get a leg-up on those chores. We've rounded up the best deals available now and put them all in one place.
Smart Home

Haier’s shoe washer cleans sneakers without all the clanging and banging

At CES 2019, Haier brought a bunch of shoe-centric appliances, including its sneaker washer. The appliance douses shoes with water and detergent and scrubs them, and then you can put them in the accompanying dryer.
Mobile

Everything we know about the Nokia 6.2, which might arrive in January

The Nokia 6.1 was our favorite budget phone of 2018, so we were always going to get excited when details of a successor came to light. However, the Nokia 6.2 will exceed those expectations if leaks are true.
Opinion

As Amazon turns up the volume on streaming, Spotify should shudder

Multiple players are all looking to capitalize on the popularity of streaming, but it has thus far proved nearly impossible to make a profit. Could major tech companies like Amazon be primed for a streaming take-over?
Gaming

Throw out the sandbox. ‘Red Dead Redemption 2’ is a fully realized western world

Despite featuring around 100 story missions, the real destination in Red Dead Redemption 2 is the journey you make for yourself in the Rockstar's open world, and the game is better for it.
Gaming

‘Diablo Immortal’ is just the beginning. Mobile games are the future

Diablo fans were furious about Diablo Immortal, but in truth, mobile games are the future. From Apple and Samsung to Bethesda and Blizzard, we’re seeing a new incentive for games that fit on your phone.
Movies & TV

He created comics, movies, and superheroes. But Stan Lee lived for joy

Stan Lee was a creator, a celebrity, an icon, and beneath it all, a real-life good guy with all the same human qualities that made his superheroes so relatable. And his greatest joy was sharing his creations with the world.
Music

Brian Eno sets out to change music (again) with Bloom: 10 World

We always felt that Bloom was a musical system that could be developed further -- it was as if we’d built a CD player and only ever released one CD. For this release, we’ve created ten new worlds, starting with a reimagined version of…
Computing

Can two operating systems coexist? The Pixel Slate thinks so

The Pixel Slate is a 2-in-1 device like no other. It’s not the most polished product we’ve ever used, but Google has laid the foundation for letting mobile and desktop software live side-by-side in peace.
Android

Why commercials in Android Auto could turn your dashboard into a dumpster fire

Google announced some tweaks to the Android Auto experience, focused on making messaging and media easier, but I worry about the future of the platform. For better or worse, there’s a real chance our dashboards could turn into dumpster…
Gaming

These are the best video games you shouldn't leave 2018 without

Developers showed up with a number of amazing games this year. Each capitalized on something unique but there's always one that outdoes them all. Here are our picks for the best video games of 2018 and game of the year.
Home Theater

Will Marvel’s shows lose their punch if they move from Netflix to Disney Plus?

Disney could pick up the Marvel shows being canceled by Netflix, but the idea raises all sorts of questions. Is continuing Daredevil, Punisher, or Jessica Jones on Disney's own streaming service a good move?