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This summer I had the opportunity to attend DEFCON 30, a cybersecurity conference gathering around 27000 hackers in the fabulous city of Las Vegas, Nevada. With more than 30 villages and 3 main conference tracks, the event managed to cover pretty much every subject from malware analysis to online drug dealing.

The welcome to Las Vegas sign
Photo by Grant Cai

Best talks

Roger Dingledine from the Tor Project made a fairly news-relevant talk explaining how Russia is trying to block Tor. It gives an explanation of the software produced by the Tor project, such as Tor, Tor browser, and pluggable transports (like meek). Those last ones are the most important here since they can help bypass attempts made by dictatorships to block Tor. The talk dives a bit deeper into Russia’s censorship of Tor and explains its numerous flaws and shortcomings.

Another very interesting talk was from Nikita Kurtin, about bypassing Android permissions. This talk shows perfectly how thinking outside the box can lead you to completely break complex permission systems. In this case, he uses a mix of UX and system tricks to get users to agree to anything, all the time.

And lastly, Minh Duong gave the most fun talk of this conference by explaining how he Rick Roll’d his entire school district. It explains how he managed to take over his school network, using known vulnerabilities and software misconfigurations, and progressively escalated his position until he was able to play “Never gonna give you up” everywhere. Definitely, a good example of realistic hacking, far away from academic papers and armchair exploit development.

The villages

Each village provided either a set of talks, and activities. I didn’t stick too long in the Cloud and AppSec villages, as I wanted to use the conference to also discover subjects I am less used to. The physical security, tamper-evident, and lockpicking villages were particularly interesting to me, as I had not really explored non-computer topics of security before. And honestly, they almost made me think picking locks was going to be easy!

The car hacking and voting machine villages also allowed me to have a glimpse into topics that will probably become quite important to the industry in the near future. The biohacking village was also interesting as it provided a few medical devices to try and break, although I am not sure if anyone managed to actually root anything during the conference.

The other stuff

At night, the talks and villages left room for parties. Not only this made for a good socializing opportunity, but we also managed to see an absolutely awesome show by Taiko Project.

I didn’t really take the time to solve the badge challenges, but I still found it very cool that it contains an actual playable keyboard.

The DEFCON 30 keyboard badges

And I was almost going to forget but, Vegas was strange, but also actually a nice city. I don’t think I would mind having to face the desert heat once more if I have the occasion.