The Road to Resilience: How Real Hacking Redeems this Damnable Profession

Presented at DEF CON 26 (2018), Aug. 11, 2018, 5 p.m. (45 minutes)

Two years ago Richard Thieme spoke on "Playing Through the Pain: The Impact of Dark Knowledge on Security and Intelligence Professionals" for Def Con 24. He relied on dozens of experiences provided by colleagues over a quarter-century, colleagues from NSA, CIA, corporate, and military. Responses to the presentation have often been emotional and have corroborated his thesis. The real impact of this work on people over the long term has to be mitigated by counter-measures and strategies so scars can be endured or,even better,incorporated and put to use. In this presentation, Thieme elaborates those strategies and counter-measures. In what is likely his final speech at Def Con, he speaks directly to the "human in the machine" AS a human being. It's not about leaving the profession: it's about what we can do to thrive and transcend the challenges. It‘s about "saving this space," this play space of hacking, work and life, and knowing the cost of being fully human while encountering dehumanizing impacts. It is easier to focus on exploits, cool tools, zero days, and the games we play in the space that "makes us smile." It is not so easy to know how to play through the pain successfully. The damage to us does not show up in brain scans. It shows up in our families, our relationships, and our lives. Thieme is not preaching, he is sharing insights based on what he too has had to transcend in his own life. They call a lot of us "supernormals," which means we discovered resilient responses to deprivation, abuse, profound loss … or the daily challenges of work that makes clear that evil is real. We are driven, we never quit, we fight through adversity, we create and recreate personas that work, we do what has to be done. It pays to know how we do that and know THAT we know so we can recreate resilience in the face of whatever comes our way. A contractor for NSA suggested that everyone inside the agency should see the video of "Playing Through the Pain." A long-time Def Con attendee asks all new hires to watch "Staring into the Abyss," a talk Thieme did a few years before. This subject matter is seldom discussed aloud "out here" and by all accounts is not taken seriously "inside," which is perhaps why there have been half a dozen suicides lately at NSA and a CIA veteran said, "I have 23 suicides on my mind, the most recent senior people who could not live with what they knew." The assumption baked into this talk: real hacking, its ethos and its execution, provides the tools we need to do this damn thing right. This talk is in honor of Perry Barlow and the EFF.

Presenters:

  • Richard Thieme / neuralcowboy - Author and professional speaker, ThiemeWorks   as Richard Thieme, a.k.a. neural cowboy
    Richard Thieme (www.thiemeworks.com) is an author and professional speaker focused on the deeper implications of technology, religion, and science for twenty-first century life. He speaks professionally about the challenges posed by new technologies and the future, how to redesign ourselves to meet these challenges, and creativity in response to radical change. His speaking generally addresses "the human in the machine," technology-related security and intelligence issues as they come home to our humanity. Thieme has published hundreds of articles, dozens of short stories, five books with more coming, and has delivered hundreds of speeches. His pre-blog column, "Islands in the Clickstream," was distributed to thousands of subscribers in sixty countries before collection as a book in 2004. When a friend at the NSA told him, "The only way you can tell the truth [that we discuss} is through fiction," he returned to writing short stories, one result of which is "Mind Games," a collection of nineteen stories about anomalies, infosec, professional intelligence and edgy realities. More edgy realities are illuminated in the recently published and critically extolled "UFOs and Government: A Historical Inquiry" to which he contributed, a 5-year research project using material from inside the military and intelligence communities to document government responses to the phenomena from WW2 to the present. It is in the collections of 100+ libraries. He is primary editor for a sequel which is in the works. Many speeches address technology-related security and intelligence issues. Richard keynoted the first two Black Hats and has keynoted conferences around the world. Clients range from GE, Microsoft and Medtronic to the National Security Agency, the Pentagon, FBI, US Dept of the Treasury, and the US Secret Service. His work has been taught at universities in Europe, Australia, Canada, and the United States, and he has guest lectured at numerous universities.

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