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Everything looks like a hack when you're paranoid at Defcon

As the Defcon hacker convention kicks off, vandalism that looked like a hack popped up on Wet Republic's website. It was just an ad.


This showed up during Defcon, but the graffiti wasn't a hack.

Alfred Ng/CNET

Next to DJ Tiesto's loud image on Wet Republic's website sits a photo of a bikini model with a beard and an eye patch, with a simple message: "It's all out war."

Not exactly what you'd expect from a spot that advertises itself as a dance club that doubles as a pool party. In fact, it looked like a prank you'd see from a mischievous hacker. But my paranoia finally got the best of me, and it turned out to be an ad campaign.

I'm at the Defcon hacker conference, which is in its 25th year in Las Vegas. The event typically has hotels on alert for its three days of Sin City shenanigans. Guests are encouraged not to pick up any flash drives lying around, and employees are trained to be wary of social engineering -- that is, bad guys pretending to be someone innocent and in need of just a little help. Small acts of vandalism pop up around town.

And again, a declaration of "all out war" -- between models.

Alfred Ng/ CNET

At Caesars Palace, where Defcon is happening, the casino's UPS store told guests it was not accepting any print requests from USB drives or links, and only printing from email attachments. Hackers who saw this laughed, considering that emails are hardly immune from malware.

But the message is clear: During these next few days, hackers are going to have their fun, whether it's through a compromised Wi-Fi network or an open-to-tinkering website.

So when I spotted the vandalism on the Wet Republic site Friday morning, it looked like other attacks I'd seen throughout the week, such as a Blue Screen of Death on a bus ticket machine.

It wasn't. Hakkasan, which hosts the event at MGM Grand, said the "vandalism" was part of the cheeky advertisements for a seasonal bikini contest it's been running since 2015. 

The "all-out war" is between the models in the competition, not between hackers and clubs. Hakkasan's spokeswoman said nothing on its network has been compromised. 

So maybe not everything online in Las Vegas is getting hacked this week, and this n00b learned to calm down the hard way.

Correction, 11:04 a.m. PT: This article initially misrepresented the nature of the "vandalism" on Wet Republic's website.

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