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Reflections on DEF CON 2023

October 9, 2023 | Dennis Bailey

In what has become an annual and much-anticipated event at Exfil, our team again went on its yearly pilgrimage to the DEF CON security conference in Las Vegas. As always it was a non-stop whirlwind running around trying to catch presentations, meet up with potential clients, do some team building, and grab delicious food. Now that we are back at work, I thought it might be fun to share some personal observations from DEF CON 2023.

In fear of stating the obvious, DEF CON continues to be the best convention for hackers worldwide. Not even a badge fiasco and an apparent bomb threat could slow down the planet’s biggest gathering of hackers. If anything, the event was more crowded than ever, with hackers swarming across every free space in the several hotels where events were hosted. One wonders if DEF CON can continue to grow at this rate without overwhelming the city.

Along with that were the seemingly unlimited opportunities for learning. The range of presentations was wide and hands-on opportunities seemingly endless as the number of villages was greater than ever. As a team we were able to glean an abundance of information from talks, workshops, and activities. Having our roots in application security, the appsec and cloud villages did not fail to disappoint.

There’s been a noticeable increase in collaboration and dialog between hackers and government agencies at DEF CON and this year was no different. In what was perhaps the most exciting area of DEF CON for many visitors, there was a government sponsorship of artificial intelligence and satellite hacking. It felt almost like something out of a sci-fi movie with hackers trying to trick AI into causing harm or to break into a satellite navigating the globe.

Probably what will stay in our minds the most were the laughs and fun moments with coworkers. Whether it was the organized ax throwing, random lunches, or even just playing Vegas table games at night, time to catch up with the rest of the company was invaluable. For a WFH company, it’s more than necessary to get together once in a while in person and build those relationships.

We also came away with a lot of the same lessons learned from our trip that we like to share with newcomers to the event:

  • Don’t connect to public wifi
  • Try to “spot the fed” and you might win a prize/be brought on stage
  • Bring some cash to to buy new tools – like LAN Turtle, or Flipper Zero
  • Bring a laptop to participate in the events
  • Bring good walking shoes
  • Hydrate for those blazing hot walks between hotels
  • Keep an eye out for lots of unofficial events to attend
  • If you don’t know about the villages, just ask, that’s why the volunteers are there
  • Bring a backpack for all the free stuff
  • Go easy on the alcohol

As DEF CON 2023 concluded and we left Las Vegas, we returned to Exfil with a wealth of knowledge and insights. The conference underscored the rapid advancements in cybersecurity and the importance of staying updated. With a successful trip behind us and a goal of applying what we learned, we’re already looking ahead and thinking about next year’s event!