Exploring The DEF CON 26 Badge – Hacker Noon

I got my official DEF CON 26 cybersecurity conference “HUMAN” badge and now exploring its hidden features. Defcon badges have puzzles to unlock that can be solved to get the coveted “black badge”. The badge is basically a circuit board, so it is hardware that you wear around your neck. It is quite heavy since you also need to add 4 AA batteries to power it up. It is artistic and cool to look at, but not so much fun to wear. The weight of the batteries kind of bears on your neck. The artwork shows what appears to be various types of rooms. There are various chip components one can find on the circuit board which include SOIC, microcontrollers and a main processor. The creator of the DEF CON 26 badge are The Toymakers (TYMKRS), a Minnesota based collective.

Let’s go ahead and explore the badge itself.

Here are the physical dimensions of the badge:

  • 8” x 3”
  • 4 Battery Holders (1.5 V each, 6 V total)
  • 30 LED
  • PIC32MM0256GPM Processor 48-pin TQFP
  • 256 kB RAM, 512 kB SRAM
  • 1 USB Port Micro-USB type B

The badge itself has an illustration on its front side, where the “DEFCON” lettering is placed with touch capacitive buttons underneath it. One button on the lower left hand side is the DEF CON logo while the other two represent the numbers “2” and “6”. These buttons do have a purpose and once you press down on them it changes the way the LED colors appear.

At the bottom of the badge, next to the battery holders, are pins that can actually be used to connect with other badges. I did not explore enough on this, but it is a way to interact with other badges.

The badge is powered by 4 AA batteries, but it can also be powered when connected via USB. I connected it to a laptop computer’s USB type A port and it powered up the board, immediately lighting up the LEDs. According to DEF CON event staff, some users badges malfunctioned because the batteries where put in the wrong way. I am not going to try that at all just to see if it really happens since I value these badges enough not to destroy it. The batteries must be placed with the “+” positive end matching the “+” on the holder, and likewise for the “-“ negative. Are some people just careless or have they never put batteries in a device before? It is possible since many electronic devices have an integrated Li-Ion battery and AA batteries are not required.

The USB connection not only powers up the badge, there is something else it can do. Once you enumerate the badge as a device on your computer you can access a special screen. Once you can access the screen you will that the output uses ASCII characters. It also opens up in a terminal style interface. It will output what appears to be a game, complete with some instructions. I have not played the game so I cannot say what it is all about at the moment. There is definitely more to this game that is worthy of discussion.

DEF CON badges are getting more creative. Attendees can have multiple types of badges like press, speaker, goon, etc. You can even create your own unofficial badge because it is also cool to do so. The fun part about it is that it is open source, so you can hack into the badge and add your own custom features and interfaces. That is what the badge is all about. While in other conferences the badge is simply a name tag, DEF CON makes it more memorable and even functional. Just another toy for “hackers” to play with.

Note: This article features the official DEF CON 26 badge, hosted at the Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, NV USA (August 9–12, 2018).

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