LAS VEGAS — The Federal Trade Commission showed up at Defcon this morning, and the thousands of hackers roaming the convention couldn’t be happier.

It’s somewhat of a shocker. Many view the FTC in the same light as the Internal Revenue Service: with aversion. Perhaps aware of this, the FTC is looking for a makeover, and its “Zap Rachel and Her Robocall Minions” hack contest can be construed as a big salvo in the FTC’s new war of perception.

“I mean in this case, if the contest is cool, no one gives a shit if its coming from a .gov or something else. If you’re a government official and trying to be cool for the sake of being cool, it’s ridiculous. Usually you suck,” said Uli Ries, a freelance tech reporter from Munich.


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“But maybe in this case, if people love the contest, it definitely won’t damage your brand. And maybe it will get your message out to the community.”

Ries, garbed in a Lyft t-shirt, may be right. Indeed, the new FTC commissioner, Terrell McSweeney, is flying into Las Vegas for Defcon. She arrives late tonight.

Zap Rachel is a contest broken down into three components with a prize purse of $17,000. Sure, it’s not enough to retire on. But it’s a start. The three facets are called Creator, Attacker, and Detective.

The FTC is the nation’s biggest consumer-protection agency. It has the power to levy heavy fines and run you out of business if you cross the legislative line.

The FTC described Zap Rachel like this:

‘Rachel from Cardholder Services’ is one of the most notorious — and most annoying — robocallers ever. The FTC is challenging the tech-savvy public to help us zap Rachel and her robocall buddies by creating the next-generation robocall honeypot at DEF CON 22. A robocall honeypot is an information system designed to attract robocallers, which can help researchers and investigators understand and combat illegal calls.”

Perception goes a long way. And for the FTC, Defcon may be the ideal venue to represent a new face to the many skeptical hackers around the world. Or maybe not. At the very least, it’s a big opportunity for them.

“Definitely. If it’s cool, it might help them to get in touch with a community that’s been ignoring them until now,” Ries said.

More information:

Federal Trade Commission prevents business practices that are anticompetitive or deceptive or unfair to consumers; to enhance informed consumer choice and public understanding of the competitive process; and to accomplish this without ... read more »

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