3 tips to get the most out of Black Hat/Defcon

For seven days each year, Las Vegas becomes home to thousands of hackers and security professionals. Here's how to get the most out of your annual trip

Las Vegas Sign for Blackhat DefCon Event [by Skeeze / CC0 via Pixabay]
Credit: Skeeze

Las Vegas. Hate it or love it, for seven days each year Sin City is the gathering place for BSides Las Vegas, Black Hat, and DEF CON. Combined, these events are arguably the largest security gathering in North America, with professionals and enthusiasts both in attendance. Here's how to get the most out of your trip to the desert this summer.

Relax, let the conference do the work for you:

Among the three conferences, you'll be surrounded by upwards of 30,000 people or more during the week. This can present a bit of a hassle when it comes to time management.

The best way to deal with this is to make plans ahead of time … and stick to them. Start by looking at the talk outlines and see who is presenting. The DEF CON speakers list is available here, and the Black Hat list is here. At the time this article was written, the BSides Las Vegas schedule was not available. Edit: The BSides Las Vegas schedule is online, and can be found here.

Now that you know who is speaking about what and when, try to schedule your time around the talks you want to see. However, keep in mind that space at some talks can be limited and it might be wise to arrive early.

Another thing to consider is that some talks are recorded, so if there isn't room you can still catch the talk later. Also, at DEF CON, the talks will be presented on closed-circuit TV (DEF CON TV), and you can view them in your room.

At Black Hat, presentation recordings will be available for purchase onsite – but if you wait the odds are good you can catch the same talk at another conference. At BSides Las Vegas, the talks are recorded and will be hosted on YouTube shortly after the conference ends.

Note: If it comes down to seeing a talk or spending time with friends or peers, always choose the human interaction.

Eat, Drink, Sleep:

Remember this rule: 3 hours of sleep, 2 meals, 1 shower. It's a running gag among hackers this time of year, but the advice is sound.

If you get dehydrated, you're going to have a bad time. Frankly, while there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy an adult beverage or four, remember that water is your best friend in the Las Vegas heat. The same can be said for sleep and food. Get as much rest as possible, and try to eat at least twice daily — your body will thank you later. As for the daily shower: Really? You need this explained? You're an adult, so take a shower.

All work and no play:

Most of you attending one of the three conferences later this month will be on the clock. That's fine, but remember to take some downtime because the hectic schedule of managing three conferences in a week is exhausting.

While on the topic of work, remember that public networks are just that – public. If your organization offers a VPN, make sure you use it whenever you access company assets (data, systems, etc.). If possible, avoid doing work on the show floor, and instead use that time to educate yourself by visiting booths, attending a talk or two, or just interacting with your peers.

Bonus tips:

  • Money -  Credit cards are common for anyone who is visiting Vegas for work, but don't forget to keep some cash on you. Also, the ATM fees are outrageous in Las Vegas casinos, so remember to bring cash with you if possible. (Yes, fake ATMs have been a thing at DEF CON, but that hasn't happened in a year or so.)

  • Make Friends - Seriously, if the choice is between a talk or social interaction, go with social every time.

  • OpSec isn't just a phrase - When you're out making friends, remember not to discuss or allude to sensitive topics, especially those that are related to future projects or plans at work.
Cybersecurity market research: Top 15 statistics for 2017