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Photos: Defcon badge inspires hacks

Likely the most sophisticated around, Defcon conference badges feature customized circuitry, interactive LEDs, and hidden features for attendees to hack and explore.

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CNET Reviews staff
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1 of 13 James Martin/CNET

The badge for Defcon 17

The badge for hacker conference Defcon 17, held over the weekend in Las Vegas, was the most sophisticated yet. Developed by Joe "Kingpin" Grand, the front features multiple layers of silk-screen graphics. Each type of badge for the various participants (this is a press badge) is shaped differently so that when they are assembled together they form an image. The badge has a built-in microphone, and an LED reacts to sound by flashing, changing colors, and even blinking messages in Morse code.
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2 of 13 James Martin/CNET

The back of the Defcon badges

The back of the Defcon badges includes a 3-volt battery, an RGB (red, green, blue) light-emitting diode(small beige square), a microphone (small gray square below that), and a digital signal processor surrounded by test points (far right). The "P" shaped section is a holding area where circuitry and other parts can be soldered on.
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3 of 13 James Martin/CNET

The badge chip

This is an MC56F8006 Digital Signal Controller chip manufactured by Freescale. Around the chip, badge designer Joe Grand put test points that provide easy access to interfaces on the chip. Hackers can wire three of the testpoints to the three corresponding test points on other badges to create a multi-badge communications interface. Other test points provide access to a bootloader feature that allows for new code to be loaded onto the badge.
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4 of 13 Joe Grand

Puzzle

There were seven different types of badges for Defcon participants: Human, Press, Speaker, Vendor, Contest, Goon (security), and Uber. All the different type of badges were different shapes. Like a puzzle, the pieces fit together to create an image. This photo shows the assembled badges with connecting wires that allow them to communicate and blink in unison.
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5 of 13 Eric Mize

Joe Grand

Grand, the designer of the Defcon badges, wears one of the highly coveted Uber badges that winners of certain contests are awarded. It grants lifetime access to Defcon. The art on the badge is by Eddie Mize.
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6 of 13 Joe Grand

Schematic for the Defcon badges

This is the schematic for the Defcon badges that serves as an electronic road map and graphical representation of all the components and how they connect to each other to create the circuit.
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7 of 13 Joe Grand

Static Serial Bootloader

Grand designed a static serial bootloader into the badge to allow people to load their own programs and firmware into the badge. All it requires is a simple connection to a PC and a terminal program, like HyperTerminal, to upload custom code.
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8 of 13 Joe Grand

Badge manufacturing

This is a picture of the Pick & Place machine used during the badge assembly process by e-Teknet in China. The printed circuit boards pass through this machine where the individual components are precisely and automatically placed onto the board and then sent through a reflow oven to solder the components to the board.
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9 of 13 Joe Grand

First place winner

The first place winner of the Defcon badge-hacking contest went to Zoz Brooks who turned an ordinary hat into an anti-surveillance device by wiring up the brim with LEDs. When you turn on a device controlled by the badge all the lights blink at a certain frequency that generates enough optical noise to defeat facial recognition systems.
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10 of 13 Joe Grand

Evading motion sensors

For the second part of the badge-hacking project that won first place, creator Zoz Brooks modified a badge from last year's Defcon to create a device that can help someone escape detection by infrared motion detection sensors that are temperature-sensitive.

Inspired by the movie "Sneakers," he added a temperature sensor to the badge that indicates when the room is warm enough for someone to start moving so as not to trigger the motion sensor. A motor on the badge controls two foot-shaped pieces of plastic so that they move at the pace needed to evade detection--two inches per second, giving an indication of how slow someone needs to walk.

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11 of 13 Joe Grand

Second place winner

The second place winner of the Defcon badge-hacking contest went to a group that created a "Sound-Fearing Blimp." They wrote custom software for the badges and hung three of them to the bottom of a toy blimp. Each badge measured the sound level coming from its microphone and set the speed of its individual drive motor accordingly, steering the blimp away from areas with greater noise levels. The badges were connected together to communicate between themselves.
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12 of 13 Joe Grand

Sound-Fearing Blimp

The Sound-Fearing Blimp in action at Defcon.
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13 of 13 James Martin/CNET

Swapping Files

This is the front and back of last year's Defcon badge, also developed by Joe Grand. The badges were designed with a slot for an SD (Secure Digital) memory card so that badge holders could share files with each other over infrared. The badge also functioned as a TVBGone device, remotely turning TVs off.

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