Dateline Reporter Outed at Defcon

According to their website, "Defcon" is the largest underground hacking convention in the world.

When they first started doing this back in 1993, it was far more hush-hush - or at least as hush-hush as you can get when you rent out a meeting hall in the Sands hotel in Vegas. The event soon became a valuable research tool for corporate IT guys, computer security professionals, and the spy-on-your-every-move, piss-on-the-constitution, big-brother type feds who want to keep tabs on what "those hacker punks" are up to.

This year one member of the press decided that it would be a good idea to attend this convention of security professionals by going undercover and secretly videotaping them without their permission for a story she was doing.

Yeah. What could POSSIBLY go wrong with that idea?

ZDNet blogger George Ou was on hand Friday when the organizers of the convention decided to hold a "spot the undercover reporter" game in order to out the reporter, who turned out to be Michelle Madigan, an Associate Producer of the NBC show Dateline.

Here is an excerpt from his account of how it all went down:

Madigan was apparently trying to do a shock piece for NBC Dateline to show middle America how criminal underground hackers had descended on DEFCON Las Vegas to learn tricks of the trade and how Federal Agents were tracking them down. When a DEFCON staffer spoke to Madigan posing as regular attendee, Madigan commented that people in Kansas (reference to middle America) would be very interested in what was “really” going on in DEFCON. DEFCON official “Priest” also had reason to believe that that Madigan was planning to out uncover federal agents attending DEFCON and expressed some serious concern about the safety and privacy of those agents. Because of this, staffers used this to lure Madigan to the room where they planned to out her instead in front of DEFCON attendees in the “spot the undercover reporter” game but Madigan bolted from the scene before her photo was put up on the projector.

The sad part of this story is that Madigan was given every opportunity to get a press pass and get access to any of the speakers and attendees above board. Even after the secret video taping she was offered a chance cover the rest of the conference with an official press badge. This is my second year covering DEFCON and I’ve never had any problems getting photos or video from willing attendees and speakers but that’s not what Madigan was going after. She wanted to paint a picture that would shock “people in Kansas” about DEFCON and that’s not what DEFCON is about. The Feds, Press, and hacker community have built up a level of mutual trust at DEFCON so that we have a place to talk openly and honestly. After taking an unofficial poll in the press room here, not one person appreciated Madigan’s antics.

And for all you schadenfreude junkies, here is the video of Madigan being outed and followed out to her car by a mob of Defcon attendees and reporters. Ironically, this looks like it was shot by an undercover camera, as evidenced by the wonderful extended footage of the ground, the steps, the sidewalk, the driveway and occasionally glimpses of a truly embarrassed television show producer:

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