I arrived at the Tuscany hotel in Las Vegas on Monday the 1st of August, the night before BSides, and the experience was nothing short of surreal. I had been looking forward to attending BSides Las Vegas, and DEFCON 24 for months, and finally, a 15 year bucket list experience was happening. This would be my first time experiencing what a largescale (may I say real?) hacker con is like.
Arriving at the Tuscany I was instantly struck by the number of people sitting, standing, and wandering about. They weren’t the normal hotel goers, all had a certain look, perhaps the hacker look. I thought I recognised a couple of them from their Twitter avatars, who I’d been following for years.
Check in was a smooth efficient process with a nice surprise: I received my badge claim check ticket for hotel guests. It was the first tangible reminder that I was actually in Vegas, and soon to be attending BSides and DEFCON.
Next up, after a bit of R&R, was the hunt for a cellular data package. This involved a walk up the strip (yes, the famous Las Vegas strip!) from the Tuscany to the Miracle Mile, where we (my travelling companions and I) found an AT&T store. $60 later (don’t make yourself sick converting to rands!) we were each on 6GB of LTE data. In hindsight we could have gone for the cheaper option, but actually having data for the entire trip was invaluable, and definitely worth the price. Once reconnected to the world wide web, we decided to stop off at Walburghers for a reasonably tasty burger and beer before some of us headed off to bed.
I had first good night’s sleep that night since we left SA, because sleeping on the plane was almost impossible. Don’t kid yourself, a trip to the US from SA is not for sissies.
After breakfast at Marilyn’s Cafe in the Tuscany, I made my way upstairs to the con venue. Even early, my group ended up at the end of quite a long line to get our badges. Luckily for us, myself and most of my group were either staying in the Tuscany, or volunteering. Volunteers got to skip the line entirely, and not long after joining it, I got to skip ahead to a much shorter line, specifically for hotel guests. After hearing that there were people who ended up not getting a badge, I’m particularly happy that we stayed in the Tuscany, and got our two badges per room. It made the experience a whole lot easier, and less worrisome. Definitely worth the spend, especially since the Tuscany was probably my favorite of the three hotels we stayed in all week.
After registration I spent some time exploring the chill out room, which was the main area of the con. It consisted of vendors lining the walls, standing and seated tables throughout the floor area, a stage where a couple of presentations were given, as well as certain ‘villages’ such as the lock pick village and the Pros versus Joes CTF. I probably spent most of my time in this room throughout the two days of the con, socialising with friends, and meeting new people. It was quite full at times, and I found it very difficult to follow the two keynote presentations, which were presented here.
After the keynotes I grabbed a t-shirt or two from vendors, in exchange for my soul (aka name, cell number, and email address), and then went to collect the official BSidesLV t-shirts and hoodies that I had preordered before hand. I found these shirts some great inspiration for BSides Cape Town, so watch this space!
I did manage to catch a few talks. I spent the first few hours in the Hire Ground area, where there were talks on getting into information security as a career, which is something I have a keen interest in. Unfortunately the room was small, and the back lined with companies recruiting, and providing advice, which made it difficult to hear the speakers at the best of times. I do hope they improve this for next year. I didn’t really get anything valuable out of these talks, but I did get to see some big names in the field speaking, which was a great experience.
During the afternoon of day one I attended one of the underground talks, which was interesting, perhaps a bit harsh at times, but it was also enjoyable and informative. After this I mostly spent time socialising with my group, and meeting new people. Dinner was a Walburghers repeat, after failing to meet up with some of my travel companions. But I did get to walk the strip for a second time.
Day two, Wednesday, proved to be more fun than the first day for a variety of reasons. I spent some time meeting people and having breakfast that morning. I had prebooked for the “Hands on Cryptography with Python” workshop taking place from 14:00 to 18:00, so I wanted to make sure I was fresh and ready for it. I quite enjoyed the workshop, presented by Sam Bowne, and enjoyed learning more about the block chain for voting, and meeting more new people.
After the workshop I attended one final talk with my group, which was an underground talk on Las Vegas surveillance. I found it quite interesting, perhaps my favorite talk at BSides, while it did lack anything really juicy, I still found it informative and enlightening.
Dinner with some friends at Pub 365 in Tuscany was had and it was my first taste of tacos, which were delicious, and a mojito which was reasonable good too. While waiting for our food we noticed that the presenters of Hak5, Darren and Shannon, were sitting at the table behind us. Being a huge fan of the show since near the beginning, I was a bit star-struck, luckily my less socially awkward friend Ross went over to say hello, and asked Shannon to come over and say hi to us. She was happy to do a meet and greet, and was very friendly and down-to-earth, and gave us all a Hak5 coin, one of my favorite souvenirs of the trip!
Next up was the official BSides LV pool party which was taking place down at the Tuscany pool later that evening. Not being one for pool parties I was a bit apprehensive, but I’m very glad that I went. After a short wait to be allowed in, and then a longer wait at the bar to get a drink, we were in. While not partaking in any of the water based activities at the party, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I mostly stuck with my group, picking up new people as the night went on, with more queueing up for drinks.
There were projectors being used to display various images on the walls surrounding the pool, as well as a DJ booth being set up upstairs, looking down onto the pool. The DJ booth was particularly fun, with the likes of Dual Core mixing, and some of my favorite hacker music being played. This set the scene perfectly, particularly one of the tracks with the chorus of “Drink all the booze. Hack all the things”, entitled “All the Things” by Dual Core.If you don’t know it, listen to it here.
I had a really good time at the pool party, probably my favorite part of BSides Las Vegas. If you are trying to imagine a Vegas pool party, here are some things that were all happening at once:swimming and playing with nerf toys in the pool, others just drinking and chatting, and then others simply dancing and getting lost in the music. An epic end to our time at BSides Las Vegas 2016.