Undercover Dateline Reporter Outed,

By Lisa Vaas  |  Posted 2007-08-03 Print this article Print

Flees from Defcon"> LAS VEGAS—The Defcon hackers convention has been infiltrated. NBC Dateline sent at least one undercover reporter to pose as a normal show attendee on the first day of the show, Aug. 3. The reporter came with a hidden camera in her purse and a goal in mind: to out an undercover federal agent—any fed would do—for a planned show tentatively titled "Hackers for Hire." She was being tracked from the moment her plane touched down in Las Vegas.
Instead of outing a fed, the reporter, enthusiastically identified by Defcon as NBC Universal Associate Producer Michelle Madigan, ended up bolting from a presentation by Defcon founder Jeff Moss after Defcon lured her into Moss talk.
"We knew where she was sitting. Jeff got up and said, We have a new contest, called Spot the Undercover Press," a Defcon organizer said. "Then he asked the audience, What should we do? Bam! She got up and bolted from the room, and everybody started chasing her." Defcon organizers said that they intended to offer Madigan a chance to come clean: to get up on stage and accept a media pass—one had already been offered to her four times—before she bolted. A mob—Defcon estimates it consisted of 150 people—of Defcon attendees, staffers (aka "Goons") and media converged on Madigan and followed her as she avoided questions, ducked her head and ran for her car in the parking lot, a la "Catch an Identity Thief," "Catch a Predator" and other Dateline shows where targets are chased as reporters shout questions. Defcon was alerted to the infiltration the day before the show opened by a source they declined to identify. Defcon organizers decided to contact Madigan in turn. Working as "friends," various Defcon staff members working undercover contacted her and offered to set her up with the interviews she needed, offered to set her up with Moss, offered her media credentials and more. She declined, saying that she preferred to "fish" for what she needed undercover. To gain access to Defcon, media attendees are required to sign a disclosure that explicitly forbids photos or other electronic capture of attendees without their knowledge and permission. The Defcon staff member who greeted her at the reception desk was already tipped off as to Madigans true identity. The staff member, requesting that his name be withheld, told eWEEK and other media that he offered to show her the media rules and regulations. She declined, saying that registering as a "Human"—i.e., a regular, nonmedia attendee—would do. Malware activity in Russia catches the eye of security vendors. Click here to read more. He then accompanied her away from the registration desk. Spotting Moss, he offered to set Madigan up to talk with him. She declined. As they passed the womens restroom, she said to the staff member that she needed to use the restroom to put on her hidden camera. "I said, I dont think theyre allowed here," he said. "She said she thought it would be OK. At that point I made a radio call [for backup]," he said. Asked how Defcon got tipped off, Priest, a senior Defcon staffer, aka "the face of Defcon," said, "There are people in her line of work who like me better than they like her producer and what she was trying to do." Next Page: Outing the undercover agent.

Lisa Vaas is News Editor/Operations for eWEEK.com and also serves as editor of the Database topic center. Since 1995, she has also been a Webcast news show anchorperson and a reporter covering the IT industry. She has focused on customer relationship management technology, IT salaries and careers, effects of the H1-B visa on the technology workforce, wireless technology, security, and, most recently, databases and the technologies that touch upon them. Her articles have appeared in eWEEK's print edition, on eWEEK.com, and in the startup IT magazine PC Connection. Prior to becoming a journalist, Vaas experienced an array of eye-opening careers, including driving a cab in Boston, photographing cranky babies in shopping malls, selling cameras, typography and computer training. She stopped a hair short of finishing an M.A. in English at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. She earned a B.S. in Communications from Emerson College. She runs two open-mic reading series in Boston and currently keeps bees in her home in Mashpee, Mass.

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