What is Defcon

August 17, 2016, Justin Wynn, Associate Consultant, Coalfire Labs

A conference unlike any other in the world, DEFCON can make people wonder what it has in store or what one can expect to gain from attending. As a multifaceted conference, DEFCON hosts presentations on the latest and greatest exploits, discussions of industry advancements and setbacks, workshops to learn new skills, challenges to prove existing skills or creativity, and much more.

Personal experiences at DEFCON are highly dependent upon one’s attitude. Imposter syndrome can be overwhelming as newcomers to the industry attempt to immerse themselves into what others have devoted their lives to. Despite these skill gaps, newcomers with a little luck and charisma may find themselves in a group of brilliant minds or the party of a lifetime.

The first year I attended, I was lucky enough to identify interesting wireless signals with a distinct sound – that of the POCSAG and FLEX protocols. Decoding these signals revealed party invites to the Telephreak party where I listened to raw, uncensored lightning talks covering topics from car hacking to the fragility the entire West Coast’s power grid, and even met notable figures like Kevin Mitnick. It’s not unheard of for other notorious characters, like John McAfee, to attend events like these and share war stories.

Many of the experienced attendees may head to Vegas during the week of DEFCON but attend BARCON instead. The bars near the convention center are teeming with some of the greatest minds in the industry, and for the price of a scotch or a cigarette, you can usually earn yourself a seat at the table. Even with Vegas prices, that equates to a fraction of a DEFCON ticket and promises as much, if not more, intellectual exchange. Meeting up with an old friend at one of these bars provided insight into his current project: the sequencing and analysis of the human genome, barriers due to current technology, and how Moore’s law may mean current endeavors to overcome these barriers need to be refocused.

The combination of restless minds, an abundance of alcohol, and the Vegas summer heat all facilitate a memorable experience. Whether it’s pictures of internal casino areas posting notices of DEFCON safety advice, complete with an attendee-placed sticky note stating “RESISTANCE IS FUTILE!”, or the elevators mysteriously taking back control and refusing to deliver attendees to their requested floor, DEFCON shenanigans are as numerous as the attendees.

Even though much of the culture can be occult, esoteric, or downright strange, and attendees are definitely in for a wild ride (take the stairs), DEFCON is what you make of it. See you there next year!

Justin Wynn


Justin Wynn — Associate Consultant, Coalfire Labs

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