I was a DEF CON Virgin

Last week I got to experience the DEF CON hacker’s conference in Las Vegas for the first time.  If you aren’t familiar with the conference, it is one of the world’s largest hacker conventions, and this year was its 25th annual convention.  DEF CON is considered an “underground” event because it is community driven and doesn’t have any major corporate sponsors, yet it attracts roughly 30,000 people such as computer security professionals, journalists, lawyers, federal government employees, security researchers, and students from all over the world.  You can read more about the event here:



I’ve attended over a hundred IT focused conferences in my life, but for some reason DEF CON never made my list.  I don’t know why I hadn’t attended before – I guess I never really “got” the community.  But this past year I read “Ghost in the Wires” by Kevin Mitnick and gained a much better understanding of what makes this community unique, so I decided to add DEF CON to my list.

BTW, that is a fascinating book:  https://www.amazon.com/Ghost-Wires-Adventures-Worlds-Wanted-ebook/dp/B0047Y0F0K

The conference runs Thursday to Sunday, which is long as conferences go.  The good news is it only costs $260 (CASH) to attend.  That is a heck of a deal. I’ve paid twenty times that amount for shorter conferences with less content.  How can it be that cheap?  Well, there is NO food provided.  I mean none.  Not even coffee or water.  That’s an easy fix – I just threw a water bottle and some energy bars in my backpack and I was good to go.  I don’t eat that much, so I never get my money’s worth of food at the expensive conferences, anyway.  There are also no evening open bar parties.  Again, that’s an easy fix – the event is in Las Vegas, so there’s plenty of night-life to enjoy. Plus, some evenings DEF CON has content that runs until 8pm or later.

To make the conference even more interesting, I brought my 14-year-old son with me.  I wasn’t sure that was a good idea until the second day.  That’s when we walked by a room that said, “No adults permitted, unless accompanied by a kid.”  Just by luck I discovered they have a whole initiative just for kids called “r00tz”.


They had hands-on workshops for lock-picking, soldering, drone building, reverse engineering, cryptography and more.  It was impressive.  He even got a free t-shirt.  The talks from the last few years can be found on their website.  Many adults would even benefit from watching these:


From that experience, I learned that the conference is a LOT bigger than I imagined.  Before going to the conference I had spent a lot of time figuring out what presentations I wanted to attend, but I found that the presentations are just the tip of the iceberg.  There are so many other activities and special interest groups called “Villages” going on simultaneously that it’s difficult to choose.  I should have spent more time in the DEF CON forum pre-conference to learn more. https://forum.defcon.org/

One of the villages this year was the “Voting Machine Hacking Village” that had over 30 machines to play with.  That village was all over the news.  Here’s just one of the articles:  http://fortune.com/2017/07/31/defcon-hackers-us-voting-machines/

Due to the large crowd, the conference hallways are very congested and there are lines for everything.  Because of that, #hallwaycon and #linecon showed up on Twitter almost as much as #defcon.  Even with the large crowds everyone was calm and anyone I spoke with was friendly.  There were lots of volunteers (called Goons) around the conference that were always willing to answer any questions.

The bottom line is I will definitely be back in the future with both my kids, but I will do a lot more homework before the event so I better utilize my time while at DEF CON.




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