Scary but informative -- the Black Hat cybersecurity convention

Black Hat convention in 2009.

Every year, security researchers, hackers and academics flock to the Black Hat convention. They show off all sorts of ways they've exploited and abused modern technologies. Often, it's a glimpse of how vulnerable our increasingly wired world is.

Marketplace's Steve Henn is in Vegas, and says there's some pretty impressive hacking going on. One of the most wow-inducing is a drone that flies around cracking passwords; the creators call it the W.A.S.P. (Wireless Aerial Surveillance System). The W.A.S.P. impersonates cell phone towers and can record your phone calls.

Other hackers are showing off their ability to crack into SCADA, or Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition. This is a problem because SCADA is used to control things like turbines in nuclear facilities and the floodgates on dams.

And Henn says he talked to a couple guys who've figured out a hack that allows them to unlock and start cars remotely. This is kind of like that VW commercial with the sweet kid in the Darth Vader costume who thinks he can start the car on his own, except this is much less cute and actually scary. Why? The hackers are starting cars they don't own. To do it, they've hacked the GSM cell phone network -- which is the cell phone network AT&T and T-Mobile use to connect your calls -- and the system that's tied into everything from alarm systems to water treatment plants.

Also on today's show, an iPhone app that captures a specific moment or place in time. It's called Buttons Momentography and it was created by Sascha Pohflepp. Basically, it works like this: when you push the button on the app, it records your time and place. It uses that data to find another photo, taken by another person, in that same moment or location. "The poetic goal behind the project was to connect two people through the same movement of the finger," Pohflepp says. "I think for some people, and for me definitely, it has created really strange moments where you basically look through other people's eyes."

There's a gallery of photos "taken" with Buttons and something quite lovely and mysterious about many of the shots.

About the author

Adriene Hill is the senior multimedia reporter for LearningCurve.

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