To the casual observer, Black Hat and DefCon might look the same. But those who have been attending the annual Las Vegas events for years know the shows take on decidedly distinct tones. While Black Hat has turned noticeably more corporate — yet still edgy — over the years, DefCon has emerged as the more unruly (cooler?) of the two.
Compare the pricing structure: $1,695 is needed to gain admittance to Black Hat, but one can fetch a DefCon pass for $200, cash only.
While the research uncovered at Black Hat is meant to appeal to a mass audience and raise awareness to the security vulnerabilities in devices like insulin pumps and ATMs, many of the DefCon sessions are more in the weeds, created to impress fellow hackers.
Of course, that’s not to say some of the talks don’t have widespread appeal. One of those this year will be a presentation by Gen. Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency. His talk is titled “Shared Values, Shared Responsibility.”
It’s no doubt going to sound like a recruitment talk, as the NSA attempts to significantly ramp up its cyber numbers for both defensive and offensive projects. (The agency also was on hand last year).
It’s also likely to rub some people the wrong way. After all, many a DefCon sessions have homed in on the nation’s vastly expanding and worrying surveillance state, and the NSA has been arguably the largest culprit.
Jeff Moss, DefCon’s founder and a member of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Advisory Council, told Reuters that he expects some to accuse the show of compromising its integrity by inviting a person like Alexander to speak.
I expect some people will say ‘You are a sellout for having someone from the NSA speak,” said Moss, who is known as the Dark Tangent in the hacking community.
But he doesn’t see it that way.
“One of the things I try to do at DefCon is take some of the hackers out of their comfort zone. I want to expose them to people they would normally not hear from,” he said.
“Don’t you think it’s important to hear what the most senior person at the NSA has to say? I’m interested in hearing what he has to say,” said Moss, whose full-time job is serving as chief security officer with ICANN, the Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers, which helps manage the infrastructure for much of the internet.
So which side of the coin are you on? Do you trust the men in suits?