The 2012 Black Hat conference in Las Vegas saw 6,500 information security aficionados descending on Sin City in late July to sharpen their security mojo via hands-on training sessions and briefings, bookended by keynote presentations from the FBI's former top cyber cop, Shawn Henry, as well as an onstage "fireside chat" with renowned cyberpunk author Neal Stephenson.
The Black Hat origin story is simple: Twenty years ago, Jeff Moss founded DEF CON for hackers to share security knowledge and hijinks, with a bargain-basement conference venue and rooms--thanks, in part, to it being the height of summer in a dessert. Cue dodgy digs. Just five years later, however, Moss debuted the more corporate Black Hat conference, to help take the offensive techniques honed by hackers at DEF CON and disseminate them to information security professionals.
Black Hat, now hosted several times a year in various locations worldwide, in 2012 marked its 15th year in Las Vegas. The site for this year's conference, as in recent years, was Caesar's Palace. In a city famous for its lack of subtlety, Caesar's--tagline: "In Vegas, we'll always have Rome"--is a relatively up-market entry in the Las Vegas Strip landscape, boasting not just well-appointed and sprawling suites, casinos, and an eight-acre footprint, but also onsite replicas of everything from classical statues and the Coliseum to the Roman Forum and Trevi Fountain.
Inside the conference venue, this year's training sessions covered everything from how to intercept secure communications and respond to data breaches, to advanced Windows exploitation techniques and learning how to take down botnets by first building your own. This year's briefings, meanwhile, were organized into such tracks as Big Picture, Web Apps, Enterprise Intrigue, 92.2% Market Share (a.k.a. Windows), Over The Air And In The Device, and Mass Effect, as well as applied workshops such as The Dark Art of iOS Application Hacking.
If the spectacle of the black-clad hacker elite hitting Vegas head on--storming conference floors by day, bars and dance clubs by night, mixed with pool time to counter the 106 (and above) degree heat--seems incongruous, the city didn't let it show. In fact, Caesar's even hacked its own Roman conceit, signaling its support for the information security set by adorning its own copy of Michelangelo's statue of David, in all its naked glory, with an enormous, oversized black hat.
Caesar's Palace statue of David in a black hat. Photograph by Mathew J. Schwartz.