Caesars Entertainment has discreetly ended a 25-year relationship with DEF CON, a hacker convention.
Like many break-ups, this one involves copious drama, with DEF CON saying the “parting” is “confusing.” Well, let us un-confuse it: Caesars recently got burned by hackers to the tune of $15 million, and a hacker conference at their casinos is about as appealing as pineapple on pizza.
We’ve got all the tea! Or as the kids call it, “iTea.” The kids actually aren’t that clever, but let’s try not to hurt their feelings.
For background, Caesars Entertainment and MGM Resorts, the two biggest casino companies in the world, were both hacked in 2023.
Caesars paid a $15 million “ransom” (negotiated down from a $30 million demand) to get its data back, avoiding months of agony and public embarrassment. MGM Resorts refused to deal with the hackers, and suffered serious consequences that continue to this day. The cost of MGM Resorts’ hack has exceeded $100 million, including having to rebuild its internal systems from scratch.
Caesars Entertainment stockholders after hearing insurance covers the $15 million ransom, so the hack pretty much cost the company nothing with virtually no disruption to business. pic.twitter.com/dxdPi6cM4y
— Vital Vegas (@VitalVegas) September 14, 2023
Fast forward to a few days ago.
DEF CON organizers shared their event had been nixed by Caesars: “After a great 25-year relationship, Caesars abruptly terminated their contract with DEF CON, leaving us with no venue for DC 32, and just about seven months to Con! We don’t know why Caesars canceled us, they won’t say beyond it being a strategy change and it is not related to anything that DEF CON or our community has done. This kind of no-notice cancellation of a contract is unheard of in the conference business. The parting is confusing, but amicable.”
One doesn’t need a doctorate in computer science to decode the message Caesars is signaling: We don’t need your business, thanks.
For the record, cancellations of contracts aren’t “unheard of.”
For example, in 2021, Caesars Entertainment canceled a planned gathering of QAnon nutjobs.
DEF CON found another venue in Las Vegas for its convention, according to the organization, “DEF CON 32 will still be August 8-11, 2024, but now held at the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC) with workshops and training at the Sahara.”
Heaven forbid something bad happen to Sahara.
Anyway, this whole situation is overflowing with glorious subtext, and the whole subject of hackers is murky and nuanced. (Which is why you won’t see it discussed in local Las Vegas media.)
The problem is hackers fall into a number of categories: White hat (ethical hackers), grey hat (presumably no criminal intent, but not completely ethical) and black hat (cybercriminals). Beyond these categories, there are lots of other kinds of hackers, including “hacktivists” and “script kiddies” and “cryptojackers” and purple and red and green hat hackers.
The problem is it’s sometimes hard to tell who’s who in the hacker world, so Caesars Entertainment chose to paint all hackers with the same broad brush.
Unfair? Maybe. But would Caesars take heat for canceling an Arsonists Convention just because some people (white hat firefighters) start controlled burns to protect forests? If we extent the metaphor further, it’s worth noting about 100 U.S. firefighters are convicted of arson each year.
When Caesars Entertainment and MGM Resorts were hacked, they brought in some of the world’s top cybersecurity experts to provide guidance. That advice included the fact many believe DEF CON “presents some very real risks.”
For the most part, DEF CON has an uneventful history in Las Vegas. Although, we’re pretty sure employees of The Sphere were instructed to unplug any and all Internet connections last year and to never, ever open e-mail attachments. Just saying.
We personally love hackers! Love them, whatever hat they’re wearing! We probably should’ve said we loved hackers sooner, possibly in all caps, as we’d like to avoid having our sex tape leaked because that 10-second video is very private and we do not currently have time to star in a reality TV show or build a billion-dollar business empire.
The first DEF CON happened in 1993. The “DEF CON” name refers to DEFCON (no space), the alert state used by the military, it’s short for “defense readiness condition.”
The relationship of DEF CON to Las Vegas comes from the movie, “WarGames.” Las Vegas is one of the nuclear targets in the movie, and was being held in Las Vegas, so the founder of the convention, Jeff Moss, thought the DEF CON name was a good fit.
Pre-pandemic, DEF CON drew about 30,000 attendees.
That’s a lot of lost room revenue for Caesars, but it won’t move the needle on the casino side because DEF CON attendees don’t gamble very much. The running gag is that’s because they understand math.
Told you it was awkward.