Saturday, May 09, 2020

Defcon 2020 Cancelled: Can sad news also be good news?

Now with audio!

Talk about mixed emotions! Large swathes of the hacking and information security world are feeling all kinds of sad-and-yet-glad right now. Why? Because, as of May 8, 2020, this year's Defcon is canceled. This was to have been the 28th consecutive Defcon, a very popular annual hacking conference that is traditionally held in Las Vegas around the start of August.

It was also going to be an anniversary event of sorts for me. The canceled Defcon was to have been the 25th anniversary of my first Defcon. That was in 1995 and was known as Def Con III as you can see from the t-shirt.

Looking on the bright side, Defcon 29 in 2021 is already scheduled, as a meatspace event, for August 5 to 8 (see WIRED article). But the main piece of good news is the very thing that many folks—myself included—are also sad about: we won't be seeing each other this August, at least not in person.

There is more goods news: this year there will be a virtual conference. I know that not everyone enjoys this format, but I am pleased that his path was chosen. I am also grateful the hacking community has made a very difficult, yet also very sensible decision: let's not risk spreading COVID-19 by gathering in person in Las Vegas hotels in our tens of thousands to spend several days in packed talks and crowded corridors (estimated attendance last year was 30,000).

And there's even more good news, from way back in the 1990s. Back then, Jeff Moss—the founder of the event—had the wisdom and the foresight to insist that the talks delivered at Defcon be archived. That means anyone with spare time on their hands and an internet connection—maybe in a locked-down-shelter-in-place scenario—can binge on past events.

That also means people can still listen to what I said, 25 years ago, preserved as an audio (.m4b) file. Just scroll down this page: DEFCON III Archive. My talk was titled: The Party's Over: Why Hacking Sucks. My goal was to generate dialogue about the ethics of hacking, and I think I succeeded. In fact, the audio captures that quite well. (Bear in mind that this was 1995—I spoke at numerous events in the twenty-teens where organizers seemed incapable of capturing and curating audio this efficiently.) Click this link to listen in your browser; it's about 49 minutes long and while the sound starts out rough, it gets better quickly.

As someone who had been working on the computer security problem since the 1980s, I have to say that I learned a lot from that 1995 session and really appreciated everyone's input. I was invited back the next year and my talk was about how people might go about transitioning, from hacker to infosec professional. Of course, like many early DEFCON talks this one went in several other directions at first—there was even a steam train excursion—but you might still enjoy listening. Here is a link to that talk. Be warned that there is some swearing, but it is in a very polite voice.

Over time, the Defcon archives have evolved to become a quite amazing cornucopia of knowledge and history, a feast for eager minds, and a legacy for future generations.

Thanks Jeff! Thanks to your foresight, it's possible to find some good news in this sad news.

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