Hackers from around the world gather in Las Vegas to kick off DefCon

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Thousands of security experts and technology enthusiasts from around the globe have descended on Las Vegas, Nevada as the second of two back-to-back hacker conventions began on Thursday in Sin City.

The twenty-first annual DefCon gets underway Thursday at the Rio Hotel and Casino in Vegas, just one day after the head of the National Security Agency gave the keynote address up the road at Black Hat, another yearly hacking convention that attracts computer experts from around the globe.

And although NSA Chief Gen. Keith Alexander appeared at the 2012 installation of DefCon to present a plea for hackers to consider employment under Uncle Sam, the organizers of the convention have asked government agents to reconsider attending this year’s event following a revealing few months ripe with intelligence leaks. Those disclosures, attributed to former federal contractor Edward Snowden and continuously published by the media during the last several weeks, have shown the efforts the United States government undertakes to conduct cyber surveillance.

DefCon organizers have asked federal officials to skip-out on this year’s gathering, and during Wednesday’s address, some attendees at Black Hat jeered the general as he defended the NSA’s surveillance policies.

“The whole reason I came here was to ask you to help make it better,” Alexander said during his keynote address. “If you disagree with what we’re doing, you should help make it better.”

On Thursday, hackers hope to begin attending four days of conferences, workshops and lectures at DefCon that will help hone their abilities to reverse-engineer technology and penetrate networks. And even with Alexander and his cronies being asked not to attend this year’s festivities, a fair share of programs are slated nonetheless to discuss the NSA’s recently exposed surveillance programs and their impact on technologists.

But while the Electronic Frontier Foundation and American Civil Liberties Union will both hold panel discussions at DefCon to discuss the limits of the government’s programs with regards to the law and modern tech, thousands are expected to sit in on presentations that are more suitable for James Bond films than an internship under Alexander.

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