DEFCON 22 Wrap-up

For those of you who couldn’t make it this year, here is a quick highlight reel of the standout events at this year’s DEFCON event. DEFCON started out as an informal gathering of hacker types in Las Vegas 22 years ago and has grown now to over 14,000 attendees from all walks of life and professions. This show is unlike almost any other security conference in that you will see everything from government employee/contractor types involved in information security to Mohawk-coifed, crypto-anarchist types, in a floor show that has to be seen to be believed. Rather than vendor sponsored cocktail hours and presentations that are mostly pitches for products, DEFCON is intended as place where we can all come together for a little while, let our hair down and talk about some of the pressing issues facing info-security today. DEFCON has contests that cover the gamut, from locking-picking physical security challenges to e-scavenger hunts and capture the flags with servers acting as the virtual flags. Hacker Jeopardy is a favorite of mine where teams of security nerds have to answer super geeky technical questions, as always in the form of a question. The focus of the many of the presentations this year was on privacy and the NSA’s role in in our intelligence infrastructure. Some of the presentations focused on using the NSA ANT toolset, a set of data collection tools intended for electronic surveillance that was leaked last year.

They had reworked them and compiled them into the NSA Playset, a set of software usable by anyone anywhere. A version of the NSA “homegame,” I suppose, to demonstrate what our government is capable of and, hopefully, to raise awareness of security and privacy issues. The software covers everything from GSM cell phone transmissions to 911 and military signals and even detects emissions from our computers and devices from afar. Some of them made me feel like wrapping my computer in tin foil like some cold war paranoid case, given what they could retrieve with simple free software. Below is a link to check out the software set for yourself:

My favorite presentation was a fun one titled “Hacking car firmware or how to brick your car”. The engaging speaker showed all hidden menus and features he could find within his car’s multimedia control unit and how he indeed “bricked” his car after messing with it too much. In terms of after-hours events, I managed to get to several this year, including our own Austin Chapter’s mixer event on Wednesday evening at the Platinum Hotel. There, we dined on delicious quesadillas cooked by our Chapter President while yours truly shook the shaker, making margaritas for guests. Membership in our chapter definitely has its privileges. The national organization also held a reception over at the Mandalay Bay Hotel on Thursday afternoon. It was nice to network with both local and national membership at these events.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) held a large party which was an auction to raise money for their efforts in keeping cyberspace free and defending lawsuits against security researchers. They always throw quite a party while raising money for a good cause. You can find out more about them here:

That wraps up my wrap-up and hope to see you there next year!

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