A run down on Black Hat for security newbs

Veteran attendee Alan Hall of Blue Coat talks about what to expect at Black Hat and beyond

blackhat2013
Black Hat USA 2013 attendees listen to a keynote address by General Keith Alexander, director of the NSA, at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada July 31, 2013.
Credit: REUTERS/Steve Marcus

Are you attending Black Hat for the first time this year? As you try to manage your schedule and prepare for a few days in the blazing Vegas heat, perhaps you are starting to feel a little overwhelmed. I find it's always beneficial to manage my expectations, so If you've never been, I can tell you that it's a little overwhelming upon arrival.

The conferences extends across floors and hallways with hundreds of vendors and more than 20,000 attendees. Fortunately, the lay of the land is well mapped out, and if you miss one presentation, you will certainly gain something valuable from another.

[ ALSO ON CSO: The Black Hat evolution ]

That was my experience last year, but I do only have the one conference under my belt. Alan Hall, director of strategy and product marketing at Blue Coat, however, has been attending Black Hat for a number of years.

What started out as much smaller has significantly grown over the years because Black Hat is a unique show. Hall said, "While it is in competition with RSA, there is more of an international presence at Black Hat, with many global shows."

In addition to vendors showcasing new products, as you would expect at any trade show, Black Hat, said Hall, "Is more technical. There are briefings and lots of sessions presented by technically savvy professionals involved in reverse engineering vulnerabilities."

Hall has always appreciated the actual hands-on training provided over the few days that precede the conference because security professionals can advance their training and get credit for the courses they take.

"RSA is more focused on the industry direction. What are the big issues in the industry? There is bigger vendor presence. Black Hat by design tries to be more vendor neutral. It does have marketing, but booths are smaller and there are some restrictions on what they can do and how the booths are designed," said Hall.

Moreover, Hall has found that he's been able to have more detailed conversations at the booths. "You have the chance to get more technical," said Hall.

The vendor floor in combination with the briefings provides value for all attendees from the C-level all the way down to the new comers. "You have the chance to understand and know the technology, whether you're an executive or sending those on your team who are the influencers," Hall said.

Whether you are someone who recommends technology or is involved in the security architect, or the director of an incident response team, there is much to learn over the busy, yet fun-filled week. 

If your area of interest is end point threat, network threat, cloud threat, application, cloud system, you will come away with a deeper understanding of the current threats and how to mitigate those threats. "Researchers will also share hacking techniques, like reverse engineering so that you can know what the enemy knows or learn how to expose vulnerabilities," said Hall.

"You'll see vulnerabilities exposed at the show. Researchers will use the show as the venue to share a particular vulnerability that is malicious in a particular operating system. They generally work with the provider of that technology, whether it's Microsoft or another company. The researchers have given them a head’s up," said Hall.

Because those commissioned to protect need to know how the offenders are going to attack, the week is packed with very prominent keynote speakers, which is one of the biggest draws of the conference. 

"Most people come to the show with an objective because it's a great teaching and learning opportunity," said Hall. Mark your calendars upon arrival. There's a lot going on all at once, so plan where you want to be when so that you don't miss out on the briefings that are of greatest value to you. 

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