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15 July 2013, 12:37

Black Hat 2013: NSA director to speak at hacker conference

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General Alexander
Speaker at the Black Hat conference: NSA Director Keith Alexander
Source: Black Hat

General Keith Alexander, the Director of the US National Security Agency (NSA) and Commander of the United States Cyber Command, is to be a keynote speaker at this year's Black Hat conference. This announcement has caused a stir after the organisers of the DEF CON hacker conference, which is being held in parallel, requested only a few days ago that government officials stay away from the conference: the latest revelations concerning the US government's extensive surveillance programmes have made communicating with federal law enforcement officers uncomfortable for many hackers, they argue.

While both conferences revolve around security topics, they cater for different target audiences. Unlike the Black Hat conference, which is hosted by a large media company (UBM Tech), DEF CON is considered a classical hacker convention. The conference organisers take a suitably different stance on having government officials among their participants. Black Hat manager Trey Ford, on the other hand, told the Guardian that there couldn't be a better time to welcome Alexander. The newspaper quoted Ford as saying that the security and intelligence communities have a common interest in protecting international critical infrastructures and the internet in general. "We both have an acute interest in defining and defending privacy".

One of Alexander's rare other appearances was at last year's DEF CON, of all places, where the director denied all accusations that the NSA had been collecting data on several hundred million people. This attracted the interest of members of the US Senate's Congress committee, who publicly asked whether the NSA was collecting American citizens' data. "Not wittingly", was the reply from James Clapper, the US Director of National Intelligence (DNI) – a statement for which he has since apologised.

Alexander is due to speak at the Black Hat conference at 9 am on 31 July. A day later, DEF CON is scheduled to start only a mile down the road from Caesar's Palace resort in Las Vegas.


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