At This Camp, Kids Learn To Question Authority (And Hack It) : All Tech Considered DefCon Kids grew out of the largest, most important gathering of computer hackers on the planet. This camp encourages kids to take a hard, skeptical look at the machines that surround them, and teaches them to hack apart everything they can lay their hands on.

At This Camp, Kids Learn To Question Authority (And Hack It)

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block. Some kids go to band camp. Some go to swim camp. But for the children of the world's digital rabble-rousers, there's hacking camp. It's called DefCon Kids, and NPR's Steve Henn paid a visit.

STEVE HENN, BYLINE: Not every parent would send their kids to a camp to learn lock-picking, but at DefCon Kids, lock-picking is one of the most popular subjects.

ALAETHEIA GARRISON STUBER: I had fun with some of the harder locks.

HENN: Alaetheia Garrison Stuber is 16. Did you learn any new tricks?

STUBER: Not really. I got to open up a six pin, which is exciting, and they had...

HENN: Alaetheia sports a cape, and I'm guessing she could probably break into my house. Behind her, her dad, Michael, beams with pride.

If you raise a lock picker...

MICHAEL GARRISON STUBER: Oh, is this why would I do this?

HENN: No. But I'm been told that there are two career paths.


HENN: Locksmith or thief. Michael says learning to pick a lock doesn't make you a thief, but it will change the way you think about locks.

STUBER: Fundamentally, the world is about systems. And we work within systems all the time, but sometimes systems are broken. And we need to be able to subvert them, and that is a life skill that I absolutely want her to have.

HENN: DefCon Kids grew out of the hacker conference DefCon. DefCon is the largest, most important gathering of computer hackers on the planet. Thousands flock here to compete in computerized challenges and puzzles. The talks - on everything from airline security to how to hack nuclear facilities - can strike fear into the hearts of the uninitiated. But organizers say their intent is to make the world safer and more transparent by testing the technologies we depend on. And now, they're trying to teach kids to do the same thing.

CHRIS HOFF: These guys learn something new every time they come.

HENN: Chris Hoff, one of the camp's founders, is covered in tattoos. He's a hacker with a high-powered job in Silicon Valley. He started this camp with his own kids in mind.

HOFF: Every day they're here, right, they learn about electronics. They learn about privacy. They learn about how law enforcement works. They learn about social engineering.

HENN: And unlike most technology camps that have sprung up around the country, DefCon Kids is as much about questioning authority as taking apart computers. Chris Hoff wants his own kids - all kids - to ask more questions.

HOFF: Anytime you see an end-user license agreement on a screen, you just say accept. You don't know what it means. You don't know what you're giving away or what you're doing.

HENN: The camp's goal is to each kids how the technologies that surround them work and affect their lives, to teach them what it means when they hit that button marked accept.

CORY DOCTOROW: And right now, what we say to kids is your privacy is as precious as your virginity, and once you give it away, you can never get it back.

HENN: This year, Cory Doctorow, the science fiction writer and blogger, gave a talk here entitled "How to Hack Your School's Network." Now, despite that provocative name, Doctorow wasn't really encouraging kids to break rules, break into computer networks and get expelled. Instead, he argued that schools that monitor their students online while lecturing them about the dangers of Facebook are sending an insanely mixed message about privacy.

DOCTOROW: You must guard it at every moment of the day and night, except when I'm violating it, which is all the time.

HENN: His talk wasn't really about hacking at all. It was about organizing, pushing back, asking pointed questions to your principal. Doctorow was using the word hack in this case to talk about a social movement. And for most of the folks at DefCon, hacking is a social movement. So, Charlie, what are you doing?

CHARLIE OCEPEK: Well, I'm trying to get this password thing.

HENN: Charlie Ocepek is 6, and he's already looking for bugs in games on his parents' iPad. Now that the teenagers that founded DefCon 20 years ago have children of their own, many want to pass along their brand of, quote, unquote, "ethical hacking" to the next generation. Steve Henn, NPR News.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.