Picking school locks, solving crypto challenges– do these sound like regular activities for children ages 8-16 to you? Maybe not, but according to the masterminds behind DefCon, the annual conference for hackers held last week in Las Vegas, these activities help children hone important skills which will be useful in their careers.

Significantly, this was the first year the annual conference extended an invitation to hackers between the ages of 8 and 16, and I understand it was met with praise from returning adult attendees. In my opinion, conferences like DefCon have the potential to make the public profile of hackers more inclusive of different age groups, as well as to change the public perception of hacking for the better. I can only hope that the talents of these young pros will be put to good use.

And it seems that this will  likely be the case. Representatives from NASA, as well as the National Security Agency, were also in attendance at the conference, scouting the pool of budding techno pros for future employees. The presence of such legitimate scouting agents at a conference for young hackers is a positive step, but not a surprising one, since DefCon staunchly promotes ‘white-hat’ hacking, the type of cyber hacking which is used to fight crime and solve national security issues.

It was at this conference that a 10-year old girl, nicknamed CyFi, revealed that she had tinkered with a popular social app and discovered she could change the game’s time flow. If this 10-year old hacker can learn to outsmart an app, I can only imagine what talents she will possess in the future. With the art of hacking receiving increasing support from the public, the ambitions of CyFi and other young hackers are more likely to be realized.

For an interesting first-hand account of the conference, check out this article, in which the father of a budding 14-year-old hacker describes the benefits of DefCon for young children.