Attending Black Hat, Defcon, or BSides Las Vegas? Dave Lewis offers some first-hand tips on what to expect

I remember all too well my first trip to Las Vegas for Defcon back in the 90s. Not knowing much about the city, I had booked myself into the Mirage.

In the lead up to the conference my manager was incredibly nervous that I was going and wanted to make sure that I didn’t tell anyone I was working for a defense contractor.

Upon arriving at the hotel, I went through the process of checking in to my room. The agent at the desk said the following, “We have your room available but it will be a while until we can let you into the room. Do you have a cell number we can call you when that is possible?”

My brain suffered vapor lock for a moment. Once I recovered I asked, “Wait, my room is ready but, I can’t get into it? I’m not entirely sure I understand.” With a sheepish grin the staffer said in a hushed tone, “Well, we’ve lost control of our elevators.”

My eyebrows went up so fast that my hair blew backwards. They had indeed lost control of the elevators and they would randomly open on various floors much to the chagrin of anyone trapped inside them trying to get to their floor.

I smiled and realized that I had made the correct decision in coming to Vegas. I had a thirst to learn and my intrigue was truly piqued.

The next year I returned to attend the Black Hat conference. I had been indoctrinated in the chaos of the Alexis Park Hotel and I decided to try my hand at this more stoic iteration of a security conference.

Now, decades later I can share some of the key lessons I’ve learned from regularly attending Def Con, Black Hat, and BSides Las Vegas.

Personal welfare

First off let’s tackle the basics. You are going to need to stay hydrated. This might seem simple but, this very important when spending any length of time under the hammer of the Vegas summer sun.

Be sure to stay on top of this as you could quickly find yourself with dry mouth and an inability to shed tears, feeling dizzy and confused.

Be sure to pack light. There isn’t need for a steamer trunk full of clothes. There is only so many times I can watch someone try to wrestle and oversized bag into the overhead locker on a plane.

The key thing to realize is that you will be surrounded by thousands of people. Be sure to get at least three hours of sleep, two meals in you and most importantly, one shower. For the love of all that is good and holy, shower.

It pains me that I need to talk about his but many folks get wrapped up in the excitement of the conference and neglect their hygiene. Please be sure to attend to this important item.

Making the most of it

Now, we turn our attention to strategy. Black Hat along with Defcon and BSidesLV are large conferences and there is a need to plan. Be sure to scout out which talks you want to attend and plan to show up early in certain cases. The lines for some talks can be daunting and you want to be sure to plan accordingly.

These events, which are often euphemistically referred to as “summer camp”, also have a large social element to them. Talk to folks. Show up for workshops and take the time to meet people.

I forced myself out of my introverted bubble and I’m thankful that I did. Also, there are parties during the week and for most of them you’ll need to register in advance.

I created this handy guide to make this easier for attendees to find the events.

Black Hat is also good chance for people to meet companies. A couple years ago I suggested that people looking for a new job should bring some printed resumes with them to hand out.

One person in particularly who took issue with this suggestion. He claimed this was bad OpSec and so forth… all the while he was forgetting that every angle in the event venue is covered with a camera. Risk management is hard.

Finally, relax and enjoy yourself. Only bring the essentials, drink water, eat, sleep, and shower. This is not a week of events to live in fear of. Plan ahead and have fun!