Jul 16, 2017
UPDATE - 20170902 - Typos, finding emergency exits.
So, after many years I've decided that it's my turn to write a first-timer's guide to Defcon. There are many like it, so I'll try to be as frank as I can about the topic. I'm going to try to write for people who've never been to Defcon before (but may have been to other hacker cons). I'm not going to lie or joke around (which some of the guides tend to do) and give as much personal advice as I can. I'm also going to try to not sound like your parents, because nobody likes to read stuff like that.
It's been said that it is a common thing for people to write about their OPSEC protocols for Defcon that they don't use any other time, with the implication that they aren't serious about their security or privacy any other time and are sitting ducks any other time. I would politely like to point out that not everybody has the same threat model: Defcon has one of the most hostile network environments on the planet, one which is not often found anywhere else. It is erroneous to assume that people who only talk about how they prepare for Defcon do not take the same kinds of precautions at any other time. What those people do may not be your business or anyone else's at any other time.
To that end, here are some of the security protocols that I use at Defcon, and happen to use at other times while I'm traveling, as well as some friendly advice to folks new to Defcon.
Feb 20, 2017
My day job sent me to BSidesSF at the DNA Lounge this year. If you've never been to one before (and this was my first, due to unforseen circumstances some years ago), they're a loosely connected group of security conferences under the BSides name organized along the lines of an unconference. This is to say that the dynamic of "presenter and audience" is not the primary goal of a BSides, getting people together to talk about what's going on and what they're doing is the point. In other words, birds-of-a-feather gatherings among attendees (usually over a beer) are the accepted and encouraged mode of conference participation. Of course, there was also a lockpicking village and a small number of vendors.
There were also more people in attendence at the DNA than I've seen in a long time. This meant more background noise and sensory interference than I was prepared for. Hasufin (who was also attending) had to rescue me on one occasion, pull me down the block, and drop me off in a coffee shop to recuperate. I also found it very helpful to go for a brief stroll the let my sensory threshold return to normal.
After the cut, my best attempt at depicting what all of that noise looked like. It wasn't pleasant.
Jul 30, 2016
It's mostly been radio silence for the past couple of days. If you're reading this you've no doubt noticed that Switchboard (one of my constructs) posted the slides from my talk earlier this week. As sophisticated and helpful as she is, Switchboard can't yet pick thoughts out of my wetware to write blog posts. And so, here I am, my primary organic terminal sitting at Windbringer's console keying in notes, saving them, and then going back to turn them into something approaching prose. I've just now had the time to sit down and start writing stuff about HOPE XI, largely because after getting back all hell broke loose at my dayjob (per usual) so I haven't had the time. In point of fact, this writeup will probably happen over the course of a couple of days so it might come off as a bit disjointed.
It felt kind of strange attending this HOPE. I missed the last one two years ago because I was in the middle of moving into our new place on the other coast so I felt a little out of the loop. I missed just about everything that happened there and I keep forgetting to go back and track down the video recordings (so I'll have another part of me do that). It didn't take long to get back into the stride, though. Once you start attending hacker cons regularly it's easy to find how everything comes together, dive in, and get out of it what you're looking for. There weren't many vendors there because HOPE is largely a talks-and-talking to people kind of conference but I did come home with a few things to practice with as I always do. I also went out of my way to not buy another full wardrobe of t-shirts because, even after getting rid of 4/5 of my collection (including, I hasten to add, much of my collection of hacker convention shirts) space in my dresser is still at a premium. So goes the life of a self-admitted clothes horse. I also found one of Seeed Studio's FST-01 ultra-miniature 32-bit computers for sale at a table and snapped it up to use it with NeuG as a random number generator in a few of my projects because my Geiger counter died some months ago, but that's a writeup for another time.
After landing, picking up my luggage, and catching a cab to the hotel I met up with Seele, Genetik, and Nuke, whom I was splitting a hotel room with. I was a bit chagrined when Seele told me that there'd been a booking mixup and the Hotel Pennsylvania had to give us a different room. What I hadn't expected was that they gave us what amounted to a con suite, two full-sized rooms hooked together like a smallish apartment that easily had room for twice as many people as would be staying there. There was sufficient room that we were able to spread out as much as we liked with room left over so sleeping was quite comfortable. I never really got over the jet lag this time so my sleep schedule was all messed up. I may have averaged about four hours of sleep a night all weekend, modulo having to take a nap for a couple of hours on Saturday afternoon because I could neither concentrate on anything nor tune out background noise for very long. Either one left me with a dizzying sense of sensory overload which left me unable to see straight. It also meant that I spent the next couple of days trying to catch up and crashing hard after work for ten to twelve hours, with very strong but fragmentary dreams as my primary long-term memory optimized itself. It was the kind of sleep deprivation that you didn't know you had, as opposed to the kind of sleep deprivation where you know full well you've been awake for three days straight and you feel it in your bones, your fingers, and even in your hair. I didn't make it to all of the talks I wanted to but I did make a point of picking up a couple of DVDs before I left of the ones I really wanted to hit; I also downloaded most of the livestream recordings to watch later on the media box, probably after I get off the road the week after next.
A colleague of mine once remarked that there comes a point where you pretty much level out of most of the stuff that happens at hacker cons and you get more out of interacting with everyone there than you do from attending talks or seminars. I was somewhat skeptical at the time but open-minded about the possibility. Now I'm wondering if that's not the case because, from reading a whitepaper or two and having part of me do a search I can pretty much reconstruct the content of the talk (as verified by actually watching a recording of the talk later) and get the same thing out of it. I definitely came away from most of the discussions I found myself in with new perspectives on a lot of things.
So it goes.