July 31, 2012

585 words 3 mins read

A newbie's review of Defcon 20

This past weekend in Las Vegas saw the yearly formation of a hacker mecca, namely Defcon. Since Fred told me about his Defcon trip a couple years ago, I’ve really wanted to go. I don’t consider myself a hacker, though what they talk about does fascinate me… and affect me professionally. I was lucky enough to get to go this year through work. Defcon is a 4 day hacker extravaganza and I didn’t even get to see half of it.

In case it wasn’t obvious, this was my first Defcon. I’ve been told about it, but being a newbie I didn’t really know what to expect. Nothing can easily, simply, or properly describe Defcon, but this is the best I can say:

Defcon is 4 days of mostly controlled chaos run by and attended by people who aren’t big fans of authorities… or rules. Another important thing to note is that everyone needs to check their egos at the door. If nowhere else, there will be someone at Defcon who is smarter, better, faster, and/or more dangerous than you.

Between 10 AM and 6 PM each day, there are several series of talks and panels running. Each speaker has their own style and appeal, which may or may not match what you were expecting. Anyone who’s someone in the hacker community is probably talking… and their talks will be easy to spot by the MASSIVE lines. We came up with a quick rule of thumb for the weekend that helped: “If the talk sounds interesting and there isn’t a line out the door, Jon has probably fucked up the calendar again”. I may or may not have been intoxicated while operating the calendar… and may or may not have mixed up a number of room numbers and times. Speaking of lines, just assume there will be a line for ANYTHING and EVERYTHING at Defcon. Want Coffee? Line. Want to see a speaker? Line. Want to learn how to pick locks? Line. Want to get lunch? Line. Need a cab back to your hotel? Line. Want to use the bathroom? Line. You get the idea.

If you aren’t there for the talks, and a number of people aren’t, there are also a bunch of side activities: Social engineering room, Lock pick village, the game room, chillout cafe, contests, vendor space, and people trying to hack anything with a wireless interface. Looking at the schedule you’ll find dozens of little sub-events. Beyond that there are dozens more events and parties that you’ll only find about if you know someone. Getting to know people at Defcon is a VERY good idea if you really want to enjoy the Defcon experience (or maybe want to get onto the kewl Ninjatel cellular network — which I sadly did not).

I’ll spare you the details about every talk I saw, because anything that was worthwhile at Defcon has since made it to the mainstream media, or at least onto Slashdot. Defcon is so chaotic that it’s hard for to leave there feeling like you spent your time well. I learned a number of things, saw great talks, saw shitty talks, and procured a few toys for later testing. At the same time I missed SO MUCH of Defcon. Sometimes the lines were too long, sometimes the talks conflicted…. and sometimes there was just too much partying the night before. I haven’t even really gotten to sleep on the entire experience, but I sincerely hope I get to go to Defcon 21.