Warm yourself up for DEF CON with some of our favorite talks

The 25th edition of the DEF CON conference starts today in Las Vegas. Hackers from around the world have converged on the infamous City of Sin, in order to share what they’ve learned in the previous year.

We can expect a treat. That’s because DEF CON has long been a source of jaw-dropping (and often profoundly funny) talks. Here are five of my favorites.

Barnaby Jack – Jackpotting Automated Teller Machines (2010)

The motivation to target ATMs, Barnaby Jack (who tragically passed away in 2013) explained onstage at 2010’s Defcon Conference, was obvious. They’re full of cash, and he’s always held an interest in targeting systems with immediate consequences for end-users.

But how easy is it?

As we discovered, pretty easy. Most ATMs are as easy to pop as an overripe cantaloupe melon, and with a bit of tinkering, Jack was able to make these machines spurt cash, like a Cognac’d up rapper in a nightclub.

The best version of the talk, in my opinion, is the one Jack gave at the Black Hat conference. Just skip to 5:40 to see what I’m talking about.

Michael Robinson – Knocking my neighbor’s kids’ cruddy drone offline (2015)

Drones aren’t really toys, but that hasn’t prevented them from finding their way into the hands of young children, who use them to act anti-socially.

In a true tale of pettiness, Michael Robinson looks at the countermeasures you can use to protect yourself. If you watch any number of DefCon videos on YouTube, this is a theme that’ll quickly emerge, as research is often inspired by day-to-day frustrations.

Zoz – Pwned By the owner – What happens when you steal a hacker’s computer (2010)

When a laptop gets lifted, it’s pretty much a lost cause. That person will never see their computer ever again. Unless, of course, you’re the Australian-born hacker, Dr. Andrew ‘Zoz’ Brooks.

When his computer was stolen, it sent him on a hilarious quest for justice — some scarcily-censored nudity included.

Jason Scott – That Awesome Time I Was Sued For Two Billion Dollars (2009)

Jason Scott is a filmmaker, archivist, but is most well-known as the founder and operator of textfiles.com. This site is an archive of the Internet’s earliest history, much of which has been lost, because that’s unfortunately how the Internet works.

But sometimes, he gets emails and letters from people insisting he remove content. And sometimes they’re from urological catheter manufacturers. Or authors that want to see their content disappear for good. And sometimes they’re so angry, they want over two billion dollars in restitution.

Zoz – Hacking driverless vehicles (2013)

Another great talk from Zoz, this one broaching the issue of autonomous vehicles, like aircraft and cars. The latter of which, depending on who you talk to, will be the norm in as soon as five years, or are far away on the horizon.

Either way, before they hit the road, it makes sense we figure out how to secure them, right?

Jianhao Liu, Chen Yan, Wenyuan Xu – Can You Trust Autonomous Vehicles? (2016)

Autonomous cars work by processing data from several different sensors, and acting upon the information in an appropriate manner. So, if it sees a pedestrian walk into the road, the car should either stop, or swerve to avoid them.

But there’s a flaw in this, as it’s quite possible to overwhelm or disrupt these sensors, as demonstrated by three Chinese researchers in last year’s DEF CON conference.

We’re just touching the surface

There are a lot of incredible DEF CON talks around, and it’d be impossible (or, at least, really time consuming) to aggregate them completely. Thankfully, you don’t need a blog post to find them. Just go to YouTube and search for DEF CON. It boasts an archive of talks dating back years.

And don’t forget, there are other great hacker conferences, many of whom publish their talks online. Check out Hackers on Planet Earth (HOPE), Black Hat, SteelCon, BruCon, and god-knows-how-many Security BSides franchises.

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