InfoSec Institute Interview: Dax Labrador a.k.a semprix, founder of ROOTCON

April 10, 2013 by Jay Turla

For today’s interview, we have a FreeBSD contributor and the founding director of the largest and most awesome hacker conference in the Philippines, ROOTCON! Guys meet Dax Labrador a.k.a semprix!

He is a FreeBSD Ports maintainer and contributor of the Dradis Framework. He is also currently working in HP Enterprise Security as Security Consultant.

He will share to us the history and details of ROOTCON so sit back and grab a mug of coffee.

How did ROOTCON started and can you tell us a bit of its history?

ROOTCON started back in 2008.It started as a DEFCON Group, which we named DEFCONPH DCG6332.We were able to push 2 events under the name DEFCONPH –a very small gathering. First it was a 20 man show, then the second just grew from 20 to around 60 people.While we were pushing some events out of the name, we were advised by the folks at DEFCON to rename it due to copyright issues (laws bite) =). With high respects to DEFCON and DT as the fathers of all hacker conferences, we changed the name to PinoyGreyHat. The group continued until such it became a venue where n00bs, skiddies and even 1337s were scared and hesitant to join the community.

We were marked as a government armed organization to catch cyber criminals. Yes people thought we were some form of entrapment for hackers. At the start of forming the community, which took me years to build, I decided to again rename the group to have a more neutral meaning. That’s when the inception of “ROOTCON” took place. I always make sure that ROOTCON will be a community where everyone are welcome from hackers, n00bs, skiddies, tech enthusiasts, government feds and even enterprise people. ROOTCON will remain a neutral community.

What was your motivation for founding ROOTCON?

Hacker conferences back in 2008 were everywhere from India and Pakistan to Australia. It was due time that we had our very own hacker conference in this country. There was this one hacker conference that existed back then but it was expensive and commercial, where InfoSec geeks easily get bored. No mind-boogling games, and if there were any, you had to pay for them to join. Eventually it died. Because of that, it was high-time to come up with our own local hacker conference. Eventually, we were tagged as the “Premiere Hacker Conference in the Philippines.” To date we are still the largest and the most awesome hacker conference in the Philippines. InfoSec in the country is still at its infancy stage, as a security professional, I am highly motivated to bridge the hacker community to the government and the enterprises where we share knowledge and have fun at the same time, a hacker and gees way to learn.

As the founder of ROOTCON, what are your biggest challenges?

One of the biggest challenges I encountered while I was building ROOTCON was convincing people. Our country is still not ready to embrace the importance of Information Security and most of all to embrace the word “hacker.” The influence of media on “hackers” is that we are the bad guys. We steal. We destroy things. The challenge of getting people informed that we hackers are not the bad guys, we are the good guys and we make things better for everyone is the hardest challenge I ever encountered in steering ROOTCON.

How did you conceptualize ROOTCON?

I conceptualized ROOTCON as a venue or a community where geeks, hackers, n00bs, skids, and pros can meet and will be on the same wavelength–a place where everyone is comfortable sharing those awesome hacks and knowledge. ROOTCON will be awesome and fun, like the father of all conferences (DEFCON), ROOTCON will be a neutral venue–a venue of fun and learning. I will always ensure that ROOTCON will be affordable to everyone and yet not compromise its quality of learning.

What makes ROOTCON different and unique from other hacker conferences?

Hacker conferences worldwide are much the same; even our dear speakers hop on different countries to join different hacker conferences. I don’t see any difference. Well, if there are differences it will be the tropical weather of the country (Philippines) and the beautiful beaches in Cebu City where our speakers and attendees will enjoy before or after the conference.

Is there really a need for a hacker conference in the Philippines? Why?

Yes! We are in the 21st century. People are facing technology in their day-to-day tasks; and part of that technology is Information Security.Having a local hacker conference will make people aware of the worst scenarios they might face technologically. Hackers are the new defenders of the Internet =).

What do you think about the Philippine government’s preparedness in terms of Cyber Warfare and Terrorism? Is the Philippines ready? What do you think are the areas that need improvement?

The Philippine government might have the cutting-edge hardware on their infrastructure but the question boils down to “Are we knowledgeable or are we ready to use them?” The Philippine government has not fully braced Information Security so I think the preparedness level in terms of Cyber Warfare and Cyber Terrorism is a bit low. The areas of improvement will be hiring the right folks for the job, having the right skills and having an open mind in the areas of Information Security.

What can we expect this coming ROOTCON 7, which will be happening on September 2013?

There will be many surprises this coming ROOTCON 7. To name a few, we will be having “some” known international guests, awesome line-up of topics which would fit the current undertakings in the security arena.

Do you have any final words or some special greetings for our readers out there?

Final words for the non-tech readers; hackers are the new defenders of the Internet, don’t fear them, fear the crackers 😉 Special greetz to the ROOTCON crew and volunteers and to my InfoSec family at Fortify. =).

Posted: April 10, 2013
Jay Turla
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Jay Turla is a security consultant. He is interested in Linux, OpenVMS, penetration testing, tools development and vulnerability assessment. He is one of the goons of ROOTCON (Philippine Hackers Conference). You can follow his tweets @shipcod3.