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Largest gathering of offensive hackers converges on Miami

Feb. 28, 2013: A man types on a computer keyboard in Warsaw in this illustration file picture.REUTERS

No nametags. No photographs. No video. Attendees remain utterly anonymous -- and that’s the way they like it.

Formidable American offensive security hackers are meeting in Miami with other top hackers from all over the world to hone their technical expertise, swap war stories – and compete in a little digital jiu-jitsu. And real jiu-jitsu. Really.

INFILTRATE’s annual summit, focuses entirely on the technical aspects of offensive security issues, bringing together the best and brightest in the hacker community.

It’s largest gathering of purely offensive information security experts on the planet, with more than 200 hackers from as far away as Israel, India, Sweden and China.

Organized and sponsored by Immunity, an education firm founded by former NSA hacker Dave Aitel, the conference ran April 11 and 12. Aitel stressed that it was just for offensive work.

“Defensive information security tends to focus on potential protective measures,” he told FoxNews.com. “Offensive information security looks purely at getting into computers -- and staying there undetected.”

The hacker way

Offensive techniques are used by a wide range of people from governments and banks through to researchers working on protecting critical national infrastructure.

“INFILTRATE is important because it is the only conference dedicated to offensive information security techniques. Deep down this is about the attendees, who all share a technical competence in the area, and a burning interest in learning more about it. There are, of course, plenty of security teams here. For example, Blackberry announced on their twitter feed they are here,” Aitel said.

If you don’t understand what TTF Font Fuzzing and Vulnerability means, this is the wrong conference for you, in other words.

The show covers the latest in the field, from computer and network exploitation and vulnerability discovery through to rootkit and trojan covert protocols.

And while it sounds esoteric and dry, it has profound ramifications for ordinary Americans.

For example, legendary hacker “RenderMan,” also known as Brad Haines, gave an opening keynote on  “Attacking the Next Generation Air Traffic Control System” -- hacking the FAA’s monitoring system.

“I came to INFILTRATE to spread knowledge of vulnerabilities in air traffic control in hopes that the attention and collaboration with other hackers would result in a safer and more secure air traffic control system,” he told FoxNews.com.

“Ironically, I'm speaking about vulnerabilities in air traffic control and I have to fly home.  It’s in my best interests to help make it secure. The next generation air traffic control scares the hell out of me,” he added.

Other speakers include Chris Eagle, a lecturer in computer science at the Naval Postgraduate School, and Stephen Watt , a former cybercriminal convicted in 2008.

While still under a court-ordered restriction that prohibit him from a wide range of ordinary tech, including owning an iPhone and running a non-Windows operating system on his government-monitored laptop, Watt continues to speak out against computer the commercialization of vulnerability.

In addition to briefings by the rock stars of hacking, Immunity offers Master Class training courses in web hacking and unethical hacking. Attendees have also been competing in a wireless + web challenge to win the grand prize -- a free wireless penetration testing tool called SILICA.

Off the keyboard

It may come as some surprise to those outside the hacking community, but many of INFILTRATE 2013's attendees are avid practitioners of the Brazilian martial art jiu-jitsu, sometimes described as “physical chess.”

“Brazilian jiu-jitsu is a shared passion for many in the offensive information security field,” Aitel told FoxNews.com. “It combines large-scale strategic thinking with fast paced tactical technique. For every attack, there is a defense, and for every defense, a counter-attack.”

Away from keyboards, INFILTRATE also provides the opportunity for hackers new to the sport to have a go under the supervision of an experienced blackbelt.

Ballet dancer turned defense specialist Allison Barrie has traveled around the world covering the military, terrorism, weapons advancements and life on the front line. You can reach her at wargames@foxnews.com or follow her on Twitter @Allison_Barrie.