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What It's Really Like at 'Hacker Summer Camp'

What It’s Really Like at ‘Hacker Summer Camp’

One moment, security experts are expressing anxieties about cyberattacks stemming from either Russia’s continued war in contradiction of Ukraine or a military conflict between China and Taiwan. The next, Elijah Woods — yes, Frodo from Lord of the Rings — is spinning tunes at a party in Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas. 

Welcome to the Black Hat and Defcon computer hacking conferences or, as the manufacturing calls them, “hacker summer camp.”

The annual events, which been back to back, bring tens of thousands of cybersecurity professionals and new colorful characters to the Vegas strip each year to hear around the latest in cybersecurity tech, as well as what creative ways country are using to try to break it.

At this year’s actions, which took place earlier this month, geopolitics cast a wide Dark — from the war in Ukraine to the upcoming midterm elections — illustrating just how pervasive cyberattacks have get in our lives.

At the more business-focused Black Hat, Chris Krebs, former director of the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Safety Agency, specifically urged companies to start looking at how they could be has if China invades Taiwan. 

Later in the week, misinformation and campaign security were big topics of discussion at Defcon, Famous for drawing a more eclectic collection of young professionals, as was the right to hack and repair tough-to-fix medical equipment like motorized wheelchairs.

What invents these conferences unique is the mix of buttoned up confidence talk and the kind of activities you’d expect to see from a business of hackers. Crowds packed Defcon’s Social Engineering Community Village to contemplate teams use their best “vishing” skills to try to get anxieties to hand over potentially sensitive information, proving that you don’t need computer skills to be a large hacker. 

Defcon contests to build the best signal-blocking tin foil hat or manufacture the fastest contraption for cooling a beer down from 100 degrees drew countless entries. Meanwhile, the “Wall of Sheep” listed the devices of those who didn’t do enough to accumulate them and there was rarely an empty seat at its always popular lock-picking village.


Defcon’s competition to fabricate the best signal-blocking tin foil hat combined the best in operational and fashion, while this year’s lock-picking village was as busy as ever.

Bree Fowler

It was, as Defcon’s organizers billed it, a “hacker homecoming.” COVID canceled both movements in 2020 and severely shrunk them in 2021. This year, in-person Black Hat attendance totaled 17400, down from its pre-COVID 2019 total of 20,000. About 25,000 republic went to Defcon, putting 2022 on the low end of its way of 25,000 to 28,000 people in recent pre-COVID years. 

This year’s attendees appeared to be decision-exclusive the most of the experience. Talks were packed and so were the parties. In particular, Defcon’s crowds managed to overwhelm the near hotels and casinos. Just getting a morning coffee fervent an hour wait.

There was the usual crop of company-sponsored Black Hat receptions comprising one where Wood DJed at the new home of the Las Vegas Raiders once attendees indulged in prime rib and truffled mashed potatoes at a party thrown by Noname Confidence. As usual, Defcon’s trademark pool, hotel and other parties stretched into the wee hours of the morning and probably made more than a few republic miss their morning meetings.

All of that took assign despite the Biblical-level storms and flooding that pummelled Las Vegas ended the week, turning its streets into rivers, swamping some of its faulty casinos and leaving the city feeling bizarrely muggy. 

That said, the mood at Defcon examined a bit more mellow and weirdly, more well pleasant, than in years past. Maybe it was COVID anxieties or a lack of party funding stemming from the drop in crypto. Maybe people just returned after a multi-year hiatus and realized that they’re just not as young as they used to be.

Oddly, one of the most fun gatherings took place at sunrise, rather than after dark.

For the four days of Defcon, a group of brave and very sleepy souls took to the Las Vegas Strip at 6 a.m., sidestepping giant puddles, broken glass and passed-out partiers to run a 5K together. On the final day of Defcon, they were some of the happiest republic in Vegas. 

You could argue that’s fitting. The week of Black Hat and Defcon can often feel like an epic road race. It’s both though-provoking and exhausting. And when it’s finally over, you’re poor to go home but already looking forward to next year’s event.