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What’s inside BSides Las Vegas

Jul 27, 20164 mins
IT JobsIT LeadershipTechnology Industry

Supporting the future of cybersecurity one hacker conference at a time

In less than a week, thousands of cybersecurity folks from hackers to developers and CISOs will arrive in Vegas for the back-to-back-to-back conferences that span the strip. It all begins at the Tuscany Suites on Aug. 2 with BSides.

So what is BSides and how does it differ from the other conferences that follow next week?

Genevieve Southwick, executive producer, CEO and president security at BSides Las Vegas, shared a few moments of her time with me to tell the story of where it all began and her hopes of what the future has in store as the little conference that could continues to gain momentum and popularity.

Back in 2009, a bunch of speakers were rejected from Black Hat because they didn’t have the space, but those eager beavers were too determined to sit out the week and wait for the next year. Instead, they rented a house and invited their friends to come over and hear their speeches for free. Thus began NeighborCon.

Southwick said, “My friends wanted to do a side conference for people coming in early for DEFCON but couldn’t afford the high priced admission ticket to Black Hat, so those speakers came back for NeighborCon, which eventually switched its name to BSides.”

What started with 80 to 100 people doubled the following year. “We’ve been growing exponentially by word of mouth. I try to do as little marketing as possible to grow organically,” said Southwick. And it is working. “This year we have over 2,700 badges purchased, which includes staff, volunteers, press, speakers, and volunteers,” Southwick said.

The goal is to honor the NeighborCon feel, which was intended to provide free education for those who couldn’t afford to get into Black Hat. To that end, BSides supports different charities each year. 

“EFF is pretty much a standard, a staple of our supported charities, and we tend to rotate the others,” Southwick said. “Our supported charities are beneficiaries of our silent auction.”

This year, one of those charities is Hack4Kidz. Conference attendees will compete in a water balloon fight. Competitors have to pay $20 to buy in, unless you want to bring your own super soaker, that’s an extra $10,” said Southwick.

One of the tracks to highlight at this year’s conference, said Southwick, is the ‘Hire Ground’ track, a career track. “There will be two days of resume review and mock interviews with tips and tricks on do’s and don’ts. For those who are looking for work, BSides LV is here to try to help you with that. If you are making a career change and trying to break into infosec, this is another possible point of entry,” Southwick said.

Of the four charities supported at the conference, Hak4Kidz is one that will be doing their own additional fundraising for scholarships. “We created a DC24 Student Scholarship for high school seniors. We will have four students in Las Vegas helping at the BSides table and going to DEF CON for their first time. At the end of their adventure, they are required to submit a paper sharing their relevant experiences,” said David ‘Heal’ Schwartzberg, Hak4Kidz president.

He is thrilled to have the opportunity to raise money for his organization. “In 2015, I was chatting with Genevieve Southwick about how we could do fundraising at their conference. Genevieve asked if we wanted to be their fourth charity that they support for the event. Of course I agreed. 2016 will be our second year as a supported charity,” Schwartzberg said.

Schwartzberg and Hak4Kidz will also be accepting donations at the table and will thank donors with a t-shirt. They are selling LifeLites and using the proceeds to support the charity. Finally, they have coordinated a Hak4Kidz-BSidesLV Badge Challenge. “We are selling badges with a crypto challenge. The contest winner will receive a Rock (lifetime) ticket to BSides Las Vegas,” Schwartzberg said.

Perhaps those executive-level folks attending Black Hat should make an appearance at BSides to check out the talent in order to fill the jobs gap? 


Kacy Zurkus is a freelance writer for CSO and has contributed to several other publications including The Parallax, and K12 Tech Decisions. She covers a variety of security and risk topics as well as technology in education, privacy and dating. She has also self-published a memoir, Finding My Way Home: A Memoir about Life, Love, and Family under the pseudonym "C.K. O'Neil."

Zurkus has nearly 20 years experience as a high school teacher on English and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University (2011). She earned a Master's in Education from University of Massachusetts (1999) and a BA in English from Regis College (1996). Recently, The University of Southern California invited Zurkus to give a guest lecture on social engineering.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of Kacy Zurkus and do not necessarily represent those of IDG Communications, Inc., its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.

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