It’s always great to catch up with former colleagues and security peers from around the world, but if there’s a t-shirt I need to add to my collection, it’ll be “I survived another Blackhat/Defcon”. With back-to-back “lets grab a beer and chat” meetings, the days (and evenings) quickly blur in to a litany of bar hops and, with only 24 hours in the day, “sleep” becomes the sacrificial goat on the altar of security knowledge exchange.
Irrespective of the sleep deprivation, the annual pilgrimage to Las Vegas for the paired conferences is generally a vital part of most security professional’s year – particularly those of us who tend to focus on attack vectors and vulnerabilities.
I found this year’s Blackhat to be less claustrophobic than previous years – largely due to the better layout of the stands and spread of conference rooms, but I’m sure that the number of attendees were down quite a bit (the figure thrown around the corridors was “40% down”) – and the average quality of the talks tended to be fairly high, although the variety of genuinely new security content was down quite a bit from previous years. This has been an ongoing trend with Blackhat which I’d attribute to the increasing popularity of more regional/international security conferences and fiercer competition. That said, there were no shortage of terribly boring sessions – particularly those with novice speakers who have rediscovered an old vulnerability and obscured the parallels due to their unique naming conventions.
Of all the talks I attended, the ones I tended to like the most had very little to do with the types of security I do now, or have done in the past – with my favorite being the SSN talk delivered by Alessandro Acquisti. Alessandro delivered an excellent presentation backed by rigorous research, and I enjoyed the anecdotes pertaining to the challenges in dealing with government offices.
One thing I noted too was that in just about every presentation at Blackhat there were references to botnets. Which is great to hear since that’s what I’m focused on, although it was pretty clear that most of the presenters don’t really understand the motivations behind them or their criminal operations particularly well. Often their references to botnets were more in the tune of “…and at the extreme end of damage, it could be used by a botnet to destroy the planet.”
Apart from that, Blackhat/Defcon was its usual self. Lots of geeks traveling in migratory packs lurching from one bar to another after a day of presentations – being lured by the prospect of free alcohol to vendor parties – and trying to fit in with the overall party atmosphere of Vegas. Which, needless to say, tends to go wrong pretty quickly. Geeks + Alcohol + Parties + Vegas Nightlife = Dread (for both those participating and those watching). - But hey, I'll probably be doing it all again next year ;-)