The scene at the DefCon conference Friday in Las Vegas. (Isaac Brekken/AP)

DefCon, the conference where hackers and the people who monitor them get together to trade the latest in hacking and tracking data had some new attendees: Children and teenagers.

That’s right, for the first time since it was founded 18 years ago, DefCon has opened its doors to young people ages 8 to 16. The announcement came with cheers from regularly attending parents who looked forward to the opportunity to bond with their children, reports the Associated Press.

All of the young attendees had to be accompanied by an adult, and some of the most hotly contested competitions were geared toward the young participants. These included lock-picking (think: school lockers) and finding the weak points in popular software and computer hardware (think: video games).

One particularly accomplished hacker, a 10-year old who went by the name CyFi, discovered how to hack mobile games similar to Farmville on the Android and iOS platforms. By adjusting her phone’s clock, she was able to speed the progress of what would otherwise be long and meandering storylines. What about games that keep players from making those changes? CyFi discovered that, by disconnecting the phone’s Wi-Fi, she could make the clock adjustments and then resume play at a faster rate.

CyFi presented her zero-day hack to 100 fellow hackers at DefCon. The hack is termed zero-day because game developers are not yet aware their games are vulnerable in this way. CyFi also refused to name her targets to give them time to fix the problem before hordes of other hackers use the hack to speed up their own game play.

The significance of CiFy and her peers’ interest in hacking is not lost on the government. Programs like DefCon give those agencies and other white-hat hackers an opportunity to influence these young minds early-on, steering them toward using their hacking powers for good. It is also part of a newly emerging trend of summer camps and programs dedicated to teaching kids how to manipulate their increasingly digital worlds and, in the process, recognize threats and guard against them.

In this spirit, Uncle Sam was out in force at DefCon. NASA, the Department of Defense, the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Homeland Security all advertised potential job opportunities for hackers who were seeking to get paid to defend the country from cyber attacks. The NSA, one of the government’s most secretive agencies, announced it would be hiring as many as 1,500 cyber experts before Sept. 30.

At a time when the national unemployment rate is at just over 9 percent, for hackers, it’s a job-hunters paradise.

(AP via Techland, Mobiledia)