Merritt Group Blog

7 Tips for Surviving Black Hat

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Those of us in the cybersecurity world know that this time of year means preparations are fully underway for the annual pilgrimage to Vegas. No, it’s not just for the sizzling heat, but also to embark on yet another Black Hat (aka Security Summer Camp) extravaganza. That means thousands of security researchers, vendors, marketers, press and bloggers will descend on the desert and Mandalay Bay to discuss the newest research, latest technologies, scariest threats and biggest trends in this crazy world of cybersecurity.

As a marketing/PR/creative agency with a bustling cybersecurity practice, we’ve been heading to Vegas for the past 11 years to support clients, build relationships and bolster our cybersecurity knowledge and experience. As such, we’ve learned a lot along the way and have some tips to share that will help you stay safe, have fun and get the most out of the show - whether you’re a “n00b” heading to Black Hat for the first time, or a veteran who’s attended every year and seen just about every medical device, A.T.M. and/or car hacking demo out there!

  1. Your data is not safe. Just because you’re in your hotel room or on the show floor in Mandalay Bay, don’t assume your online presence is safe and secure. You’re at Black Hat - a HACKER conference - where people go to learn about security, but also like to play games (or worse) to see who they can hack, what they can steal, etc. If you are going to be on the network, try to use a VPN or even a burner phone. You may have always wanted to see your name in lights, but getting hacked and having your name up on the DefCon Wall of Sheep is probably not what you had in mind.
  2. Perception is Reality. Remember the RSA speaker who tweeted about manipulating an airplane’s equipment (he didn’t really do it, just talked about doing it) who was subsequently not allowed to board the United flight? Right, well be careful of what you say, especially at a major hacker conference like Black Hat. You might not mean it, but the FBI will when they take you in for questioning.
  3. Don’t get PWNED. If you’re attending the Pwnie Awards ceremony at Black Hat, pray you’re NOT going to win. Especially try not to win the “Most Epic Fail” award, which OPM took home last year for the hack of its systems that put 25.7 million Americans at risk or the “Epic 0wnage” award, which Hacking Team won last year (having beat out OPM as well as Kaspersky for the Duqu 2.0 infiltration) for the leak of of 400GB of data including zero-days in Microsoft and Adobe applications.
  4. Beware of Skimmers. A.T.M. skimming is on the rise - remember Safeway? In a place crawling with hackers, there’s a definite chance there will be an A.T.M. skimmer somewhere nearby just waiting to steal credit card data, and if they’re particularly savvy, PIN numbers too via hidden camera. To avoid this, according to a security researcher at Kaspersky Lab, “take note of anything that looks unusual about an A.T.M., particularly the slot where the card is inserted. If the fixture wiggles, or appears to be attached with glue, that’s an indication that a skimming device is attached.” Or better yet, get some cash from your own bank before you head to Vegas!
  5. Tips from the Inside. If you are a n00b and really want to get the most out of the show, don’t miss Day Zero on Tuesday, August 2nd, to hear from Trey Ford, former GM of Black Hat, and others about tips and tricks to make the most out of your time.
  6. What Happens in Vegas…Ok, it may not be THAT kind of party, but the party scene at Black Hat is not to be missed, and definitely a good place to network without the pressures of back to back meetings and being on time for briefings. There are some good ones already planned from companies like FireEye, MACH37, ZeroFOX, Fidelis Cybersecurity, Gigamon, IOActive, Digital Shadows, Cylance and more. But be sure to register early!
  7. Take a Break. Black Hat is a ton of fun and full of great networking and education, but don’t forget you’re in Vegas. If you have a little free time, get off the Strip and head to where the locals hang out. The Fremont Street Experience, or “downtown,” is a lot of fun and significantly more chill than the Strip. Hit up the Griffin or Downtown Cocktail Room. And definitely take a ride on the zipline!
Topics: Security