Hacker Summer Camp 2017: DEF CON

DEF CON, of course, is the main event of Hacker Summer Camp for me. It’s the largest gathering of hackers in the world, and it’s the only opportunity I get to see some of the people I know in the industry. It’s also the most hands-on of all of the conferences I’ve ever attended, and the people running the villages clearly know their stuff and are super passionate about their area. Nowhere do I see so much raw talent and excitement for the hacker spirit as at DEF CON.

This year was the first year at Caesar’s Palace and quite frankly, it showed. Traffic control reminded me of the first year at Bally’s/Paris: as best as they could do without any data, but still far from optimal. Additionally, Dark Tangent pointed out that they were expecting 6% growth, but ended up closer to 20%. That’s thousands extra. The rule that they do not sell out and everyone gets through the door is not without its downsides.

Overall, this year was incredible for me personally. Though I attended no main track talks, I made it to a couple of Sky Talks and some village talks, as well as a bunch of village activities. I met a bunch of interesting people who are working on interesting technical things, which is great because it reminds me why I got into this industry in the first place and what I want to be doing in the future.

The IoT village was excellent, but I wish I had gotten to it earlier to participate in the IoT CTF – it looked like a lot of fun, and their physical target range wasn’t something you see everyday. They had everything from cheap bluetooth devices to the Google Home and Amazon Alexa, and I believe this is a reflection of where we’ll see the future growth in security – the IoT isn’t a passing fad, and we’ll have millions of low-cost devices deployed and not properly managed. There’s no time like the present to get security to the front and center of the IoT device design process.

In previous years, I’d always played in the Capture the Packet contest. This year I opted out, despite having a bye in the first round, because there was so much going on and because it had consumed too much of my time at DEF CON 24. I don’t regret this decision, but it is something I missed slightly. In fact, it ended up that I never even set foot in the packet capture village! (I guess that’s what happens to villages at the end of halls?)

The “linecon” joke was never more accurate than this year – there was a line for everything! Not only did every talk have lines, but there were lines to get into the Biohacking Village, the Swag line was long (where was Hacker Stickers with our official unofficial swag?), even the line for Mohawkcon was ridiculous! (Maybe next year I just need to get a mohawk before I go there – it’s not like I don’t donate to the EFF anyway.) I’m sure this is a combination of many factors, including the growth of the community, the new venue, and the fact that it wouldn’t be DEF CON without linecon.

The DEF CON artwork is not something I normally write about, largely because I’m no artist and I barely have an eye for, well, anything, but I really thought the art was excellent this year. I so desperately wanted to rip one of the posters off the wall next to the escalators! (I have hopes one of them might appear in a charity auction at some point, but I didn’t see it at con.)

Caesar’s as a venue was okay – there was noticably more space, but figuring out how to get between some of the areas was not crystal clear. A lot of that was on me – I should’ve done more recon of the con area. (Look for a “lessons learned” post coming soon.) My hotel room was awesome though, and in the tower right above the con space, so I had that going for me. Fingers crossed to get in the same tower next year.

Dual Core

Dual Core had an outstanding show on the Friday Night lineup. I don’t care what DEF CON calls the headliner, Dual Core is always the headliner for my music tastes. I’ve seen him perform live at least once at every DEF CON and at dozens of other events (Southeast Linux Fest, DerbyCon, etc.), and I just don’t think it would be a full con without seeing him.

Mad props to DT and all the DEF CON Goons and organizers who work so hard to put the event together. No matter how much chaos there may be, I’ve had a great time every year, and I wouldn’t miss it for the world. That’s just a part of the World’s Biggest Hacker Convention.