August 5, 2007

Ahh, the smell of Defcon, billed as the worlds largest underground computer culture convention. The distinct perfume of unbathed masses, many of whom have driven through the night from all parts of the country to make this low rent cousin of Blackhat. combined with the usual deficit of A/C facilities, adolescent excitement and unbridled geeky testosterone combined to give past Defcons a certain recognizable ‘air”. Did I smell it this year? Not exactly. Defcon is somewhat cleaned up, somewhat more up- town (held at the Riviera, a definite step up from past venues), and definitely cooled down. Some of the session rooms were downright icey. But no worries, its still the same old Defcon, albeit with a shower and a shave (though you still get the requisite Mohawk here and there).

For those who forecasted the imminent death of their beloved Con after Jeff Moss, owner of Defcon, sold sister security show Blackhat to CMP media last year, I have to say its demise has been exaggerated. Moss retained ownership of Defcon show and it still has his unique signature. Sure, it’s a little more organized (is this a bad thing?), cleaner and less chaotic. For some that was part of the allure of the old show. You never knew what was going to happen, which fugitive hacker was going to get collared by the feds in front of your eyes, or which hacker drinking game would reel out of control in some hilarious manner. But at least now the trains run on time and there still lots of good information to be had.

The truth is Defcon is probably safe for a while considering its likely unsalable as a trade show. I mean, when you only charge $100 cash for entry, its not something many big corporations is going to be that interested in. And big sponsors like Microsoft are just now getting their hands around the Blackhat show. So it will be a while before you see a MS or Cisco sponsored Defcon, if ever.

Thankfully, its still a show for the practitioner or even the casual hobbyist who cant afford the thousand dollar entry fees and big hotels. There were plenty of deep technical sessions involving everything from VOIP hacking to Online banking vulnerabilities plus the requisite Socio-political discourse to feed the libertarian and anarchist in all of us. This is the show where even members of the press are forbidden from taking crowd shots incase we are secretly FBI agents documenting undesirable individuals. So, a successful and fun Defcon once again and at 15, the show, while starting to have a few gray hairs poke out, can still party like a teenager. And for those of us with more than a little gray, we know it’s not an all bad thing.