– By Aecium

CypherCon 4.0 is the fourth year of Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s very own hacker convention that takes place each April. I was hooked from the first time I attended the event for CypherCon 2.0 and this year’s con exceeded the expectations I had from the past two years.

CypherCon has something for anyone who uses tech in today’s world. Whether or not you consider yourself a geek or a nerd, this con is accessible to anyone willing to ask questions, make mistakes and try new things. If you’re willing, you can learn everything from picking locks, cracking safes and decoding ciphers. You can also learn just how easy it is to exploit some of those Internet of things (IoT) devices everyone seems to have their homes these days, such as your smart thermostat, wireless printer, even your wireless light bulbs, and many others. And that’s just scratching the surface of the skills you can explore. Each skill has its own village set up with everything you need and specialists just waiting to help and break it down so you can understand how it all works.

While you’re learning new skills you also earn points toward the Capture the Con, an overarching contest that works to gamify learning and encourages socializing with your fellow con-goers. All three of the cons I have attended provided each attendee with a social QR code used to gather points by asking to scan other attendees’ codes in trade for scanning your own. Every point you collect puts you that much closer to winning some great prizes including cash, hard to get electronic badges from previous and even a coveted red badge that grants you lifetime entrance to future CypherCons.

This year the organizers took encouraging social interaction to the next level with the con’s interactive badges. This year’s badge, like all the previous years, was made by the amazing Tymkers (Toymakers) and was a working data tape reader.


To get the data tapes you had to find codes hidden around the con and submit jobs to the badge village. The catch was that each badge only had a certain number of tabs that would be punched out for each job you submitted, meaning you needed to find and talk to other people to trade data tapes in order to collect all the codes. As you scanned good codes, a row of LEDs would light up on your badge letting you keep track of how many correct codes you had scanned.

In addition to all the villages and the interactive badge, there were three information-packed presentation tracks that covered everything from digital forensics, remote wireless penetration testing, and even foraging for food in your own backyard. All the presenters I saw were passionate about their topics and excited share their knowledge.  

While the con is over, its effects are lasting. I’m still thinking about the new things I learned and the great people I met. I have a list of areas that I want to explore and deepen my knowledge including hacking old hardware and making sure the code I write is safe and secure, all the while knowing that sharpening my skills for my own sake will also give me a leg up at next year’s CypherCon.

If you’re up for a technological adventure or just interested in the history or future of the tech around us be sure to follow @CypherCon on Twitter to get all the updates on CypherCon 5.0. I hope to see you there.


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