General security

Surviving a Hacker Conference and an Infosec Gathering 101

September 24, 2012 by Jay Turla

A few days ago, I attended (and maybe trolled) a hacker conference called ROOTCON in Cebu City, Philippines at Cebu Parklane Hotel. To be honest, this is my second experience with ROOTCON and I think there are a lot of things I learned from this experience. One of the few things I learned is to survive and live free (thanks to the veterans and con-buddies). A hacker conference is an awesome event wherein you can learn new solutions, meet new friends especially ch1x0rz, listen to cool topics about information security and penetration testing, meet your old buddies, discover new things, play challenging games like Wi-Fi cracking, CTF and Hacker Jeopardy, and many more to mention.

But because there are risks and things you should note when attending a hacker conference as a con-goer, I wrote this article which will at least help you on how to survive a hacker conference or any information security gathering if ever you plan to attend one.

Be partially paranoid

Every conference is a new environment because there will always be new attendees, but there are obvious activities which may be good or bad in nature that will take place and are always inevitable. You may or may not know the people in the conference, so be partially paranoid and don’t give your full trust to anyone because they also don’t give their full trust to you unless you have been together since the start of your conference experience. Take note that there are possible social engineers who are present during the con who will try to recruit or trick you. Some feds are also good social engineers so spot them well.

A hacker conference is always a hacker conference attended by professionals, media men and women, script skiddies, l33ts, and newbies. Thus, do not just connect to various and untrusted access points provided by the attendees or the conference staffs (goons) because there may be a lot of users who are sniffing in that network and also because of the very famous Wall of Sheep which is a demonstration of who just got pawned or caught logging into email, web sites, or other network services insecurely. Don’t be a sheep! If ever you are connected to an access point, use a VPN server for tunneling or do SSH tunneling. Disable some of the services or processes in your system which are not needed, like your Apache and MySQL server in your *nix which I did because I have DVWA and Mutillidae installed which I use for testing and demo purposes.

(Image from /defcon-20-day-2/Defcon 20 Day 2)

Update your antivirus before going to the con and make sure your firewall is turned on. For extra protection, install a two-way firewall which comes along with port cloaking. But don’t go full retard! Just be partially paranoid because attendees are not really that bad 🙂

Don’t forget to monitor the network that you are currently in to detect malicious users and greet them.

Don’t be a show whore

Do not steal the show! Do not expose yourself too much, be humble, act naturally, and choose your friends wisely (Remember: be partially paranoid). If you are a speaker or just a participant, do not boast too much and claim that you were the one who pawned a certain famous server or website. Remember that some feds are in the con for surveillance and that it’s not really good if you are always being followed or monitored during the con.

It’s usually the speakers and game participants who expose their super egos too much (based on my experience) but I’m not saying that you should not participate in con games, what I want to point out is that we need to act naturally and enjoy the hacker games. If possible, be partially anonymous and apply what you learned in the art of cyber ninjitsu.

And stay cool…

Ask questions

There are cool topics during the con so if you don’t understand the topic don’t be shy to ask questions but please don’t ask sarcastic questions. Do not bully the speaker (LOL).

Participate and Enjoy

Like I said “be partially paranoid” because you need to enjoy the conference and hang out with your IRC buddies and groups. It’s time to increase your network and show your skills without exposing yourself too much. Enjoy playing the conference games like Wi-Fi cracking, Hacker Jeopardy, Lockpicking contest, CTF (Capture the Flag), Secrecy games, etc. in order to improve your skills and possibly win a ticket or a free pass for the next con.

There are also after-con parties so be sure to drink your beer and talk about uberawes()me things. Be sure to find a ch1xor and meet them (hehe). Overall, a hacker conference is a fun and cool event so have fun by being prepared.

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Posted: September 24, 2012
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.