Defcon 17: Still going strong

Some signs of grey hair in the mohawks

DEFCON, THEHACKER CON‘, part of the security conference activities in Las Vegas this week, seems to not have suffered too badly from the economy. Thousands of people – computer professionals, government security folks, frat boys looking to learn to pick locks, and various other flavors of geeks have shown up at the Riviera for Defcon 17. This is as much a spectator event as a conference where computer security topics are discussed. It’s interesting to just look at the folks who are here, to see which parts of the Internet population is here, and which bits of the computer security marketplace pay attention to Defcon.

There are a few new trends this year. There are more girls. Not just the “yes, I think it’s fun to go to Defcon with my boyfriend and wear this outrageous red bustier” girls, girls walking around with laptops that boot OpenSolaris. Girls who can open a beer bottle with one of their SecureID tokens (it works almost as good as a lighter – check the end for score marks if you suspect your users are “partying two-factor”.).

A noticable sector of the attendees seem older this year. There are only subtle signs – people complaining they’re already feeling tired after they’ve only gone out drinking until 3 twice this week. It would appear there’s grey hair in the mohawks, at least before they are dyed neon blue.

Also, it’s becoming more and more mainstream. You see some of the same security professionals here that you did at Black Hat. This event is a chaotic hacker convention but it’s also a good place for security professionals to network. Mostly networking means having a drink with one of your peers in the middle of the afternoon, but there were a couple of folks holding up signs saying “looking to hire botnet hackers”. One hopes they were press or joking. But also there were plenty of greybeards at the parties Friday night. It’s a bit strange discussing cloud computing deployments with a financial services network ops expert when there are two strippers on tables surrounded by cheering geeks on the other side of the room. It’s a bit odd but it does work.

The talks are incredibly crowded, and have queues worse than a modern US airport. I’ve managed to get into a couple but it’s tough as an attendee to hit lots of talks give all the standing around you have to do. They cover some of the same material as Black Hat with that special Defcon flavor. Dan Kaminsky’s 90 minute slightly rambling two-beer-laced replay of his Black Hat talk is a classic example. That sort of thing is understandably worth the hassle of the lines.

It’s not over yet though. There are more parties this evening (and oh yeah there are talks during the day.) and it goes on through Sunday. Meanwhile, toiling away in obscurity, the Capture The Flag competition is happening all weekend. Everything is going fine. Those geeks who talked their managers into funding their Las Vegas trip have plenty of reasons to say they learned something about computer security, the Internet doesn’t seem to have melted. Yet. This week. We think. So it’s all good.S|A

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