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Def Con Is Cancelled, Again

And again, and again, and again.
Image: Flickr/Tony Webster

Def Con, the popular hacking conference that's taken place in Las Vegas annually since 1993, is cancelled. Just like every year.

This year's announcement came in the form of an open letter signed by "DT," a pseudonym presumably referring to the Dark Tangent, the hacker who started the conference way back in the days of dial-up. But it's hardly the first. Def Con gets cancelled every year; it's a running joke that's been going on for more than a decade.


DEF CON ran out of badges. DEF CON is cancelled this year. #defcon #dc19
— brianredbeard (@brianredbeard) August 5, 2011

It's a gag of remarkable longevity. Every year, attendees either freak out about the conference's apparent shutdown or propagate the rumour with malicious glee. The joke has spread so far that a section on the site's FAQ page addresses it. "Is Def Con cancelled?" the question reads. "No," is the answer. But how did it start?

"I think it's from around DC6 and is a reference to our only near brush with cancellation at the Monte Carlo for DC4," Def Con spokesperson Darington Forbes wrote me in an email. "I wish I had more to tell you—since it happened seventeen or so years ago my info is murky. Something about a casino mogul preferring we not use the Monte Carlo, threats of legal action."

@ivydigital DEF CON - cancelled annually for over 20 years
— Rich Trouton (@rtrouton) July 31, 2015

While Def Con has graced many casinos throughout the years, and some numerous times, the Monte Carlo played host just once—in 1996 for DC4. Some of the first-hand accounts from the event hosted on Def Con's site may indicate why: they're filled with stories of kids phreaking payphones in the halls, tapping into their neighbours' phone lines to get free calls, and getting into trouble with security.

Even if you're not a long-time conference attendee who's experienced the joke a few times by now, though, some aspects of "DT's" recent announcement itself should send up red flags. For one, if you check the page source, the author clearly states the letter is a parody. The author also eviscerates everything that Def Con, and the infosec community more generally, stand for.

Oh and by the way Defcon is cancelled.
— LosT/李智上 (@1o57) July 21, 2012

"I believe that we are in a post-hacker world," the letter states, a suspicious conclusion for someone who supposedly founded a conference with a visual identity that can best be described as Hackers meets DeviantArt. After trotting out the tired "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear" argument about privacy, the letter goes on to say, "That's a much derided quote, but honestly, you know it's true."

The honest words of a repentant hacker, if there ever was such a thing. See you at next year's DEF CON—after it gets cancelled, too.