Blog: How Tos
n00b’s guide to DEF CON. Surviving the Matrix of the underground
Ah, DEF CON. The world’s largest hacker convention. A beacon for the diverse spectrum of cyber security enthusiasts. From code-cracking challenges to the infamous Wall of Sheep, the event is a hive of activities and opportunities. But before we dive into the world of hackerdom, let’s get one thing out of the way, “DEF CON is cancelled.” Yes, it’s a running joke in the community and a meme you’ll come across frequently, but don’t be fooled, we will be there regardless and hopefully you will be too.
Now, DEF CON happens to be held in Vegas, a city that feels dystopian in its own right. With the blazing neon signs, bustling crowds, and endless casinos vying for your time, attention, and money, it could be a little daunting. But remember, this isn’t just a city, it’s an experience. You’re entering a world where technology meets humanity, in all its glory and its grit.
Packing for DEF CON
First things first, let’s talk about what you need to take. Vegas in the summer is a cauldron of blistering heat, so pack accordingly. Think shorts, skirts, t-shirts, and trainers for the most part. Vegas is a big place, and those casinos are even bigger, so ensure you have comfortable shoes for all that exploring.
Although it’s scorching outside, the casinos can be chilly due to the intense air conditioning, so a jumper might not be a bad idea. Comfort is king, folks. Staying hydrated and shielded from the Vegas sun during your escapades is also paramount.
Remember your tech and it is probably a smart idea to bring a few US adapters with an extension cord, you can thank us later.
Protecting your tech
When it comes to tech, think “Safety First”.
Some people will wipe their phones or get a burner before arrival, ensure all your software is up-to-date, and have a fresh OS installed on a laptop with all the necessary tools for your endeavours. While we’d like to believe the attendees would rather save their Zero Click 0 days for big bucks instead of small laughs, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Stay clear of the DEF CON open network, unless you want to feature on the Wall of Sheep, a list of attendees who’ve fallen prey to rookie mistakes and visiting HTTP sites on a compromised network. There’s a safer, sign-up DEF CON network available, so choose wisely. VPNs are a smart idea.
Navigating DEF CON
The convention’s kick-off day, Thursday, and wrap-up day, Sunday, are relatively chill. Use this time to mingle, form connections, and attend talks.
In DEF CON, Goons are good
For any queries, concerns, or help, look out for the Goons – the DEF CON staff known for their distinctive red shirts. From helping you navigate the complex DEF CON layout to maintaining peace at the event, the Goons are there to assist. They ensure everyone has a safe and fun DEF CON experience, so don’t hesitate to approach them if you need help.
Badges and more
Getting your badge can be a hassle, if you want it to be. There’s no need to join the infamous “Linecon” queue at the break of dawn; by around 11 am, it usually clears up. The much sought-after electronic badges typically last till late Thursday.
One of the enduring traditions of DEF CON is the badge. Each year brings a new electronic badge, designed by some of the best hardware hackers around. The badges aren’t just for show; they’re also the key to the infamous Badge Challenge. Cracking the challenge could potentially win you a black badge – granting you free access to DEF CON for life!
Badge life extends beyond the official badge. There are countless independent badge creators, producing innovative and interactive electronic badges. Many of these independent badges come with their own challenges and rewards. Collect, earn or buy the coolest badges in BadgeCON.
Cash is essential $$$
There are no card transactions at DEF CON. You’ll need cold, hard cash money if you want to buy anything, including your badge.
Getting the most out of DEF CON
While you can’t predict everything, having a rough plan will help you. Chart out which talks, and village discussions interest you. Hacker Tracker will help you do this, the app built by DEF CON that lists events and talks.
Ensure you book workshops in advance, and arrive at least 30 minutes early for talks to secure a seat.
Diversity is the spice of DEF CON. Explore different villages, engage with attendees, and participate in as many workshops, competitions, and stands as you can.
Navigating the villages
DEF CON is home to numerous villages, themed spaces dedicated to a particular aspect of security. They are conferences in their own right. This could be anything from Aviation, Maritime, IoT security, lock picking, to biohacking. Each village hosts a variety of talks, workshops, and events related to their theme. There are also village-specific CTFs where you can show off your skills or learn something entirely new.
When it comes to villages, be adventurous and visit as many as you can. Speak to the experts manning the villages, attend the talks, and participate in the hands-on workshops. The diversity of DEF CON lies in its villages, and there’s something for everyone here, regardless of your technical prowess. If you get the chance come say Hi to us at the Aerospace Village, at Caesars Forum.
The vendor area
While DEF CON might not be a traditional marketplace, that doesn’t mean you can’t shop. The Vendor Area offers a wide range of merchandise, from t-shirts to hacker hardware, books, lock-picking tools, and more. You can also buy independent badges here, each with their unique appeal and challenges. Again, remember your cash!
One of the exciting facets of DEF CON are the Spotlight talks. These presentations focus on emerging areas in cyber security and represent the most recent research in their respective fields. It’s an excellent opportunity to gain insights into where the world of hacking is headed.
The art of social engineering
DEF CON also houses the notorious Social Engineering Community Village. Here, you’ll witness the subtle art of manipulation in action. From competitors vying for the top spot in the Social Engineering Community Competitions, to interactive workshops on body language and voice modulation, the village is a hotbed of activity.
On the topic of competitions and CTFs
CTFs are a quintessential part of DEF CON. They range from the famed DEF CON CTF, a world-class competition that draws the best hacking teams from around the globe, to fun and educational village-specific CTFs.
Consider participating in Capture the Flag (CTF) events; some, like the DEF CON CTF Finals, require qualification before DEF CON but it is a great opportunity to meet some of the world’s best competitive hackers, if you can find them. Other CTFs and competitions abound throughout DEF CON, allowing you to win prizes, demonstrate your skills, or learn something new.
Some CTFs you might want to check out include the Wireless CTF, where you’ll be tackling challenges involving various wireless protocols, and the Car Hacking Village CTF, where you’ll dive into the world of automobile security.
There’s also the popular Capture the Packet CTF, where you can demonstrate your network forensic skills. Teams work to control the most networks and protect their own from being exploited by others.
CTFs are a fun way to learn and showcase your skills, and also a chance to earn some bragging rights (and occasionally, fantastic prizes!).
The social side of DEF CON
DEF CON isn’t just about technology, it’s about people too. Make sure you respect everyone, make sure you get permission for photographs and remember that some people will be going by handles, also known as hacker aliases. This is a surprisingly friendly community. So, make friends, join parties, and absorb the distinct hacker aesthetic.
There are also a few exclusive and elusive events you should know about.
The Toxic BBQ is a great place to kick back, relax, and meet fellow hackers over a shared love for grilled food. It usually takes place in on the Thursday in Sunset Park at the Foxtail Pavilion. It’s a brief trip from the Strip, providing a nice getaway from the flashing lights and constant buzz.
DEF CON isn’t all work, it’s got a lively party scene too. Various organisations and groups host parties that you can attend. The Queercon pool party is an example of a not-to-be-missed event. Just remember, while the parties can be fun, they’re also great networking opportunities. So don’t forget to bring your ‘A’ game (and maybe a few business cards!).
Bonus events: The secret sauce of DEF CON
One of the charms of DEF CON is the array of unofficial or ‘secret’ events that occur throughout the duration of the convention. Whether it’s impromptu meetups in hotel suites or undisclosed parties, the most memorable parts of DEF CON might not be on the official schedule.
Food and drink
Vegas is renowned for its large portion sizes and variety of cuisines, but remember you can save some bucks by sharing meals. You’ll find everything from burgers to exotic dishes. Keep in mind that while you may be pulling all-nighters hacking, that doesn’t mean your stomach has to suffer.
Remember to keep hydrated and drink plenty of water, especially given the scorching heat of Vegas and the persistent air conditioning. Balance your caffeine or alcohol intake with water to stay fresh and alert.
Making the most of your DEF CON experience
With so much going on, it’s easy to get overwhelmed at DEF CON. Here are a few tips to help you make the most out of the experience:
- Network Make an effort to meet new people. DEF CON attendees are some of the friendliest and most welcoming individuals. You never know who you might meet!
- Participate Get involved in CTFs, Badge Challenges, and workshops. These are not only fun but also great learning experiences.
- Balance While you might be tempted to spend all your time in talks or CTFs, make sure to take breaks. Explore Vegas, attend parties, and take time to enjoy the experience.
- Open-mindedness Be open to new experiences. Try your hand at lock picking, attend a talk on a subject you know nothing about, or explore a village outside of your comfort zone.
While DEF CON is a welcoming and inclusive event, it’s essential to keep safety in mind. Be aware of your belongings, especially your electronic devices. Keep in mind that you’re in a space filled with some of the world’s best hackers, so ensure your devices are secure. America also has guns, and lots of them, so just be aware. Pick pockets and scam artists can also be found throughout Vegas, so stay vigilant.
Remember to take care of your physical well-being as well. You can come and join PTP at the defcon.run, a daily 5k run or at the DEF CON cycle ride if you like to keep fit. The Vegas heat can be brutal, so stay hydrated and wear sun protection when outside. The 3,2,1 rule should be followed daily – three hours of sleep, two meals, and one shower every day!
In conclusion, DEF CON is more than just a conference. It’s an unparalleled journey into the world of hacking and cybersecurity, an enigmatic gathering where minds from all corners of the community converge to share knowledge, innovate, compete, and create lasting relationships. Regardless of whether you’re a seasoned professional or a novice enthusiast venturing into the whirlwind of DEF CON for the first time, you’re bound to discover something captivating.
DEF CON is your ticket to a few magical days of enlightening chaos. With your tech prepped, your attire comfortable, your mind ready to absorb the torrent of information, and your spirit high, you are all set to take the plunge into the remarkable experience that is DEF CON.
Immerse yourself in the talks, competitions, and social events. Engage with the community, challenge yourself with complex problems, and emerge stronger, equipped with a wealth of knowledge and a network of like-minded individuals. Remember, though the experience can be overwhelming, every DEF CON attendee was a n00b at some point. So, take it all in your stride, look out for one another, and most of all enjoy the ride.
Remember to take care of your physical and digital wellbeing. Amid the bustling activity, hydration and cyber security are crucial.
So, here’s to an unforgettable DEF CON experience. Embrace the magic, the knowledge, the fun, and the friendships. As you embark on this fascinating journey remember that you’re not just attending a convention, you’re becoming part of a vibrant, diverse, and welcoming community. Cheers to a fabulous DEF CON, fellow hacker!
Reminder: DEF CON has been cancelled 😁