Let me just put it out there: I was socially engineered into attending the Black Hat conference.
There was this email -- legitimate, though not from Black Hat -- that came into my inbox that told me to click on a link for a complimentary badge, and I clicked on it. Then I put my personal and credit card information into a form, clicked submit, and instantly experienced the security professional buyer’s remorse.
“Is this really legit?” I wondered.
“But it was free, Tal!” You may say…
Well, who can put a dollar value on my personal information (or PII as we call it in “the biz”). Turns out lots of people can put a dollar value on it; there’s an entire fringe industry built around taking the stuff I put in forms and monetizing it. When it’s done by the people who entice me into filling out the form then it’s “legitimate” and when it’s done by the people who pwn the “legitimate” people, then it’s “illegitimate.”
According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, my PII is worth somewhere between 12 and 16 bucks -- my entire identity, including the contents of my wallet, is worth an iTunes album and a Happy Meal.
So, yes, I will be at Black Hat. This means I have to give my credit card information to a lot more people: the airlines, the restaurants, don’t even get me started on the hotels! They all want a piece of my PII just to go to this conference where people will yell at me about not giving my PII to anyone, especially if they ask me for it via email.
Well, it appears I’ve learned nothing!
Along with me, many vendors, practitioners, and researchers will descend on Sin City hocking t-shirts, energy drinks, battle stories, and knowledge. Since last year, pretty much everyone has gotten breached. Retailers, insurers, banks -- heck even the government -- has gotten in on the act.
I was not spared. Having been impacted by the trifecta of the Home Depot, Anthem, and OPM breaches, I’ve pretty much got a lifetime of credit protection from various agencies, and I’ve got all my passwords stored in a password service that’s unbreachable; they not only salt their hashes, they pepper them too! “If you’re going to put all your eggs in one basket,” my grammy would say, “then put the password to that basket on a convenient post-it note.” Years ahead of her time, she was, but enough about her. I suspect that we’ll be hearing about identity and auth more than ever at the conference.
One of the distinctive new features at Black Hat this year is the Career Zone. Last year I noticed that there were many CISOs in the house whose sole purpose of attending was recruiting. This was obviously not lost on the organizers and I expect this to be a pretty busy section of the conference, although it’s worth noting that likely much of the recruiting will take the form of poaching so remember to focus on situational awareness. If you don’t want your company to know you’re looking for another gig, maybe it’s best not to be interviewing in the middle of the Business Hall.
What you should do is definitely attend that session where someone wearing a hoody hacks something crazy. One time a beloved belated crazy Kiwi hacked an ATM. Last year someone said they could hack an airplane, and lo and behold someone else actually tried to do it in real life. Maybe this year someone will hack a hot air balloon!
One of the briefings that I think will likely generate some interesting conversations will be “The Little Pump Gauge That Could: Attacks Against Gas Pump Monitoring Systems.” The intersection between “cyber” and “physical” is now tacit, especially in the context of utilities infrastructure, and there’s a clear need to build self-defense mechanisms into infrastructure rather than rely purely on external monitoring and defense.
Other interesting briefings include “Defeating Machine Learning: What Your Security Vendor Is Not Telling You,” which I think will likely stir up a bit of healthy controversy judging by the recent spate of heuristic-based security advocacy I’ve seen in the industry. And “Back Doors And Front Doors: Breaking The Unbreakable System,” featuring one of my favorite speakers, James Denaro, who along with Matthew Green, will attempt answer the lingering question of whether there is a solution that does not weaken encryption systems or mandate technological designs while still enabling limited government access to secure communications.
If anyone is looking for a theme for this year’s Black Hat, “mobile” certainly fits the bill with almost 14 briefings dedicated to Android or iOS naughtiness, and I would be disappointed if nobody did something funky to the Apple Watch.
I’d like to end things on a positive note: One of the core principals we are reminded of every year at Black Hat is that nothing we do can really help us avoid a truly targeted breach, so it’s important to distribute your Black Hatting time equally on learning and partying, so that we can remember (or forget!) the things we are fighting to protect. And when the breach comes just remember Kevin Mandia’s ABC’s of security: Always Blame China.
See you in Vegas.