Let’s Play NSA! The Hackers Open-Sourcing Top Secret Spy Tools

Last August, at Defcon, the hacker conference in  Las Vegas, a boyish 40-year-old engineer and security researcher named Michael Ossmann stood on the stage of a lecture hall, about to detail a stunning new set of tools designed for spying on a wealth of electronic devices.

As quiet descended over an eager audience of hundreds of hackers, Ossmann stopped and issued a warning. “If you don’t want to hear about leaked classified information, you can leave now,” he told the crowd.

Ossmann was acknowledging a legal barrier: if you’re a government employee, you’re prevented by law from reading or hearing about leaked classified information. And leaked classified information, it turned out, was precisely the basis of his research.

Ossmann paused to see if anyone was getting out of their seats. As he peered out into the audience, he said that it was an opportune moment for a friendly game of “Spot the Fed.” (From where I was on the mezzanine of the giant lecture hall, I didn’t see anyone get up).

Then, with the patience and attention to detail of a likeable college science professor, he explained to the audience just how he had engineered the kind of surveillance devices that, six months earlier, only a select group of spies had even known were possible.

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