Apple Warms Up to Hackers, Plans Presentation at Black Hat

Photograph by Jae C. Hong/AP Photo

Attendees are seen through a Black Hat logo during the Black Hat and Defcon hacker conferences in Las Vegas.

(This post was updated with Apple declining to comment.)

In the 15 years that computer hackers have gathered in Las Vegas for the Black Hat  conference, an event where unknowns can become stars and tech heavyweights are skewered for security failures, one company has been noticeably absent: Apple.

While many major technology vendors have overcome their reluctance to making a public showing at the conference, Apple, now the world’s most valuable company, has had no problem snubbing a community whose aim is to unearth its vulnerabilities.

That will change Thursday when Dallas De Atley, manager of Apple’s platform security team, is scheduled to give a presentation on key security technologies within iOS, the operating system for iPhones and iPads.

Trey Ford, Black Hat’s general manager, said it will be the first time an Apple representative has taken the stage at Black Hat or its sibling conference, DefCon.

It’s significant because in recent years, Apple products have been stripped of their image of being hack-proof. The company’s rise has made it a bigger target, as hackers have been discovering bugs in the iPhone since it came out in 2007. Earlier this year, more than 600,000 Macs were infected, the first major malicious software attack targeting Apple computers.

Although PCs running Microsoft’s Windows and smartphones using Google’s Android software are targeted more often, the stepped-up attacks against products by Apple have become noteworthy, given the company’s exalted reputation for security.

Apple’s security researchers have lurked the halls at Black Hat and other conferences. But the closest anyone has come to seeing someone from Apple speak on stage was 2008. That’s when a panel of Apple insiders was scheduled to give a talk about the company’s security-response team. The highly anticipated event was abruptly canceled when Apple’s marketing department caught wind of it, according to Ford.

“Bottom line — no one at Apple speaks without marketing approval,” Ford wrote in an e-mail. “Apple will be at Black Hat 2012, and marketing is on board.”

The first time Microsoft security researchers spoke at the conference was in 1998, and the first time Google took the stage was in 2010, according to Ford. In joining them, Apple is acknowledging that it needs a stronger relationship with the hacking community as its products grow in popularity and come under heavier attack.

Outside of a short blurb on the Black Hat website describing the outline of De Atley’s talk, little is publicly known about what he will discuss. Trudy Muller, a  spokeswoman for Apple, declined to comment.

Regardless of what is presented, the talk is symbolically significant. Coming from a company that no longer even appears at Macworld, a trade show devoted to its products, the fact it’s giving even a little nod to the hacking world is a big step for a company that embraces the spotlight only on its own terms.

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