6 scary revelations from 2015 DefCon hacker conference

Posted at 12:10 PM, Aug 11, 2015

Today’s world is a hacker’s paradise.

As nearly all facets of life become more dependent on digital conveniences, the opportunities for gifted tech manipulators have become virtually endless. Cars, homes, safes, phones and guns have become routine fodder for hackers with intentions both noble and nefarious.

Thousands of people gathered in Las Vegas over the weekend for DefCon 23, one of the world’s most popular hacker conferences. Several demonstrations at the event revealed frightening vulnerabilities to the security of the so-called smart devices on which the world is lenient.

Below are six of the scariest hacks revealed at 2015’s DefCon:

A $32 device that unlocks cars, opens garage doors

Hackers have been taking advantage of remote locking systems since they became commonplace but a handheld device unveiled at DefCon has made the practice easier than ever. The RollJam — designed by security researcher Samy Kamkar — intercepts radio waves containing the codes that are sent from a key fob to the vehicle it controls, according to Wired.

The device can also reportedly be used to manipulate remote garage door openers, giving tech-savvy thieves a route into homes. While the RollJam sounds potentially complex, it’s valued at about $32 per unit, according to CNBC.

Hackers can manipulate death records fairly easily

One of the most illuminating presentations from DefCon 23 came from a computer security expert who warned about the ease of falsely declaring someone officially dead. The demonstration showed how a hacker could pose as a doctor or funeral home director for the purposes of forging death certificates. According to Australia’s ABC News, a similar process could be used to digitally “birth” nonexistent babies.

Hacker uses digital tech to destroy chemical barrel

The hacking demonstrations at DefCon weren’t all limited to digital space. One involved using a remotely manipulated device to implode an enclosed metal barrel — creating a frightening what-if scenario.

Hacker Jason Larsen used code to crush the barrel in front of an audience, sending a shockwave through the room, as seen in the image below. According to Wired, the hack worked by simultaneously vacuum-packing the drum and raising its temperature. The demonstration showed what could happen if a volatile chemical plant were attacked by hackers.

shock wave shook the room


Breaking into a Brink’s safe takes 60 seconds

The name Brink’s is perhaps synonymous with money security — but a team of hackers showed how quickly one of the company’s digital safes can be opened without using dynamite or drills. A small USB stick can be inserted into a port on the Brink’s CompuSafe Galileo which will manipulate the safe’s locks and open it in about a minute, according to eWeek, who talked to the hackers behind the device.

Hackers can break out of house arrest

Note to legal professionals: When sentencing criminal hackers, it’s probably best to avoid house arrest as an option. At a DefCon demonstration on Friday, a hacker revealed he’d discovered a way to fool the GPS of location-tracking devices often worn on the ankle of a person under house arrest.

The demonstration worked on a single model tested, but the hacker told Vice he was confident other models have similar weaknesses.

GPS system hacking could send self-driving cars ‘over a cliff’

Manipulating GPS navigation systems is nothing new in the hacking world, but according to Forbes, a team of Chinese researchers proved it’s easier than ever at DefCon. At its most innocent, hacking into a car’s GPS could be used to give a driver the wrong directions. But one expert told Forbes it could also be used to send a self-driving car into a deadly crash.

Clint Davis is a writer for the E.W. Scripps National Desk. Follow him on Twitter @MrClintDavis.