Defcon 17 Schedule Posted (+overview of Defcon 16)
I’m not really a “hacker” in the network security sense, nor am I really into network security. I went to Defcon last year because a coworker who was planning to attend convinced me I would have fun. I have other friends who attended in the past and enjoyed it. I mentioned it to a few friends, they were interested, so we went!
I discovered that Defcon is not just for Internet Security Geeks! There are different types of “hackers” not all of them computer related. Defcon hosts a Lockpicking lounge and a Hardware Hacking lounge in addition to a variety of talks covering a variety of subjects, not all internet security related.
The Cons of the Con
Defcon offers a variety of talks on a variety of subjects presented by a variety of community members with varying levels of expertise and presentation skills. Some speakers are poor presenters and/or not really as “expert” as they claim. If you are really passionate about a subject area and plan to attend a talk on that subject, there is a chance you will be disappointed. True to Vegas, the talks are a gamble.
Presenters are available in a separate area immediately after the talk and it may be worth following up with them outside of the presentation, if the subject is something you really care about. Regardless of their presentation skills or actual expertise, they can likely provide additional contacts and resources, or, at minimum, a redeeming conversation.
In addition to the risk of poor talks, there is a bit of a scene and “groupies” of that scene like to throw the term “scene whore” around as if it didn’t apply to them. Prepare to observe an abundance of the latest geeky tshirts, shopping mall goth-wear, rainbow hair, and Utilikilts. I joked that, due to my own casual appearance, I wasn’t “Def” enough for the “Con”. This year I’ll be dying my hair purple and bringing my Linux tshirts. 😉
However, beyond the risk of “boring” talks and the “scene” there are lots of good talks, interesting people to talk to, and fun things to do.
Avoiding Boring Talks
The way to avoid these pitfalls is to go to “fun” talks. This is something I learned from my days as an Apple Student Developer attending WWDC back in the late 90’s. Go to things that will have cool demos or are providing a general introduction or overview to the subject matter.
I went to 3 talks in particular that I enjoyed at Defcon last year. One on Urban Spelunking was a photo slide show and the presenter talked about the art of “spelunking” in abandoned buildings, construction sites, and abandoned sites in major urban areas.
Another talk was about a modern security professional telling the story of his career, which started when he was in high school in the 1970’s. The security professional was a very entertaining speaker. He passed out a stack of old punch cards with numbers on them which he used in a raffle drawing. We got to keep the punch cards.
Finally the third “interesting” talk I attended was a screening for a documentary on text-based Role Playing Games. Jason Scott was extremely entertaining and the subject matter was very near and dear to my heart.
Each night various groups host parties in the hotel and surrounding areas. Space to get into each party is limited and as the attendance at Defcon increases each year, the attendance at parties also increases. You will eventually get in, but you may have to wait in line first. If the bathroom is located outside of the party entrance, you’ll have to wait in line again to re-enter.
Last year, the most memorable party I attended was a Circus-themed event that included real Circus performers. The event was sponsored by a few companies and some drink tickets were provided.
The lines to redeem those tickets were long. I recommend buying several drinks at once (or sneak your own in) and stash them somewhere. Otherwise your evening will essentially be spent standing in line.
DJ’s range from run-of-the-mill Techno(boring) to Goth club (boring) to more dance-inspiring mash-ups (not boring). Some of the DJ’s have skills, some do not. If you hear a good DJ, get out there and dance, because the next one probably won’t be as good.
A final note about partying: Watch how the badge interacts with your clothing. The badge last year had sharp edges and managed to pull up some embroidery on the side of my dress, ruining it. I didn’t notice anyone checking badges, so if it interacts poorly with your choice of outfit, consider leaving it in your hotel room.
The schedule for Defcon 17 was just published and, keeping these things in mind, I’ve been thinking about what talks I want to check out. My focus this year will be the hardware hacking stuff. The Defcon Badge is a circuit board with “mystery” functionality that can be enhanced. I plan to bring my soldering kit and my Eee PC so I can check that bad boy out 😀
We’ll be arriving around noon on Thursday, and my major plan is to check out the pool. However I might take a stroll around the Lounges and check out the DC Network Session if I feel so inspired.
Friday, the plan is to attend the Hacking the Badge talk. I’ll get an overview of how the badge works and maybe find out some neat ways to customize it. I’m definitely not up for the Badge Competition since I’m a beginner at electronics hacking. Regardless, it will definitely be fun 😀
After that session, there is a talk about hacking the Wiimote for disabled users. It’s short, and I’m interested in Human-Computer interaction and UI.
Finally I’ll be checking out Jason Scott’s talk later that afternoon. He did the fantastic documentary about text-based RPG’s and he is a really fun speaker.
There are 2 more sessions that evening that look pretty interesting. One is called “Injecting Electromagnetic Pulses into Digital Devices” (which I’m interested in just because of that scene in Neil Stephenson’s book, the Cryptonomicon) and the other is a “Meet the Feds” Panel. I’m concerned that the former may fall into the “boring” category, so it is not a high priority. The “Meet the Feds” panel actually looks pretty fun; folks will be there from a variety of government agencies.
Saturday’s talks aren’t quite as intriguing to me, but there are a few that look fun. One is a demo of a 1964 coupled modem (that’s so War Games!) and the other is a “TBA” talk by Adam Savage of Mythbusters. I’m sure the line for that will be incredible. I might skip it and watch the video replay 😉
A few talks on Sunday have “fun” potential. There’s the history of Proximity cards, Lockpicking Forensics, and a talk about Magic and Social Engineering. The latter in particular looks like it will be very entertaining as they will have real magicians!
Finally, later on Sunday there’s an interesting looking Cognitive Psychology talk about the Psychology of Security. I am not sure when we’re slated to fly out of Las Vegas, but I’ll definitely try to make that one if I can.
Defcon was a lot of fun last year and I’m looking forward to a good time this year!!