Def Con Hackers Conference Hits Las Vegas, Linq Slots Go Dark: Coincidence?

Posted on: August 13, 2018, 04:00h. 

Last updated on: August 13, 2018, 03:19h.

When the Def Con convention of global hackers assembled en masse in Las Vegas on Caesars Palace and the Flamingo on Thursday, it only took two days for a major slots snafu to hit town as well. And the juxtaposition of the two events caused questions as whether one had anything to do with the other.

The Linq claimed the sudden disruption to dozens of its slot machines in the early hours of Saturday had nothing to do with the Def Con convention on the other side of the Strip, but the outage created plenty of speculation. (Image: Novainfosec)

Attended by computer geniuses, maverick hackers, security chiefs, and anyone in between with an interest — healthy or otherwise — in all things hackable, Def Con attendees aren’t averse to a spot of digital mischief on their annual getaway.

Was it just a coincidence that in the early hours of Saturday morning, dozens of slot machines at the Linq — just across the Strip from the convention — were suddenly rendered non-operational?

The Linq says it was. Others — including digital media website Mashable — aren’t so sure. Mashable was first to report the incident.

Def Con attendee Matt Anderson told the site that he happened to be at the Linq when the normally noisy gaming floor suddenly went silent, as “dozens” of slots flatlined in unison.

“I talked to a pit boss about it who was kind of panicking,” Anderson said. “No one else knew what was happening, but all slots were dead/errored out.”

Linqed Out

Linq spokesman Rich Broom told Mashable that the casino was investigating the incident, and while he still doesn’t know why it happened, he was pretty sure it didn’t have anything to do with the fact that some of the world’s most talented cyber-attackers were gathered across the Strip.

We were monitoring what happened when the Linq slots machines went down,” Broom said. “No evidence whatsoever that there was a hack or [that it was] cybersecurity related.”

“Machines periodically, although not very often, do go down,” he added.

Casinos have often been targets for hackers, who are finding ever more creative ways to breach security systems. That’s partly thanks to new opportunities presented by the Internet of Things — those internet-connected “smart” computing devices increasingly embedded in everyday objects from Alexa to thermostats.

Phishing Expedition

Earlier this year, hackers were able to steal an unnamed Las Vegas casino’s high-roller database by gaining access to its network via a smart thermostat in its tropical aquarium.

Nicole Eagan, CEO of cyber defense company Darktrace, told a Wall Street Journal Council Conference in London recently that once the hackers had breached the system, they were able “pull [the database] back across the network, out the thermostat, and up to the cloud.”

But it’s not all about cybertheft. Hackers also use their powers for the greater good. For example, building on work begun last year, Def Con’s “Voting Village” featured a seminar training election officials on how to defend a simulation of an election database against live cyberattacks.

Last year’s collective Def Con groundwork into the vulnerability of voting systems won an O’Reilly research award.