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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.

“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.”


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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.

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