back to article A Defcon survival guide

It's almost time for Defcon, the most bacchanal of security conferences and perhaps the single largest gathering of technically adept pranksters. Now is the perfect time to map out a strategy for keeping emails private and making sure your system doesn't get ransacked by the scowling kid with the nose ring and jet-black hair …


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  1. Brian

    A good start

    All of the above are just a start. I recommend building a clean image prior to arriving a sodom in the desert. After the conference is over, scrub the drive like the *sic* probably AIDS infected specimen that it is. No matter how good you may think you are, someone has your number. No matter how secure your system, someone has found a flaw you never heard of. Assume that no matter how paranoid you may be, it was not enough. Also beware of blue tooth and such. someone might have a hack for your blackberry or iPhone, so be careful when using those as well.

    Try to have a sense of humor about everything, I like to create disposable accounts, just to see what happens. Feel free to log into your disposable account from the open wireless, just to see what they can do to you, consider it an education.

  2. Dillon Pyron

    Defensive measures

    My first DEFCON, I didn't even turn on my laptop. Since then, I have always taken a sacrificial laptop. I pack a DVD with a system image and load it up again every night.

    I also have created a throw away email account on something like yahoo or hotmail. Usually sheep with a password of baabaa. It usually gets some laughs. But if the important stuff isn't encrypted, I don't send it.

    Wish I was going this year, love to see how far Vanna gets.

  3. adnim

    Free flight anyone?

    I would love to go, even to have my laptop owned. I am smarter than the average bear when it comes to security. I like to think I have all bases covered, and against the average script kiddie I have. But to be at DEFCON and get owned, what a dubious honour :) What "an education". I'm still in early learning, I have fuzzed a bit, I have hacked a bit and even tried to reverse some code caught in my honey pot. Compared to the average user I am pretty smart. To the "ignorant" at work I am a genius, lol. Not my view of myself I can assure you. To those participating at DFCON, well, I would just be a victim.

  4. peter


    I would tunnel everything through ssh, that includes DNS. Your server should be secure but say BSD fully patched will be more than up to the task of acting as a router.

  5. peter

    RE: SSH

    Also try a man in the middle SSH , so you get a key logger type log for everything they do.

    Who checks they have the host key setup (which defeats MITM) if they are bringing a blank laptop to the conference ?, maybe make it reject the first attempt so they know it's really their remote server.

  6. Jon Tocker

    dubious honour


    Dubious indeed - from the stories I've heard, being owned at DEFCON is par for the course.

    Going to DEFCON and ***not*** being owned (short of leaving all technology at home and resorting to paper and pen) - now THAT would be a trick...

    Or wander in there with a nice portable honey-pot and go home with a new collection of 'sploits and intrusion techniques to pin up on your wall

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I love defcon

    I will be running my rogue access point again this year. Whenever your windows box goes looking for your home/office SSID in the clear, my AP starts broadcasting that SSID! I give you a DHCP addr (guess what: I'm your default gateway AND your DNS). Loads of fun.

    I have new and improved "sheep sniffing" software.

    I usually spend a couple months getting ready: fancy new wireless rig (definietly not FCC compliant!) for wireless interception, massive rainbow tables (upgraded to 80gb drive in my laptop), lots of new toys.

    I have been practicing popping into iphones and WinMobile2003 smartphones. Making sure my wep crack stuff is perfect. Looking forward to it!

    My plane leaves in three hours, gotta get to the airport and get my stuff all set up. See you there!


  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How about...

    simply turning off all network interfaces, be it wired or wireless? A laptop without any externally accessible interfaces besides it's keyboard and display can't be hacked remotely.

    For those who really want to use the net, the best approach is to make a remote vpn gateway, reinforce it as much as possible. By only allowing in a secure vpn connection with a preset key, the remote system can be relatively safe. For the local machine, booting it with linux from a secure live cd with a wired in vpn key, a single remote desktop application set to launch from the init script and connect automatically to the remote system and by using only a minimal set of programs. This way most people who didn't see the boot process would think the laptop is running a standard os (like windows) but the thuth is that it's only acting as a dumb terminal for a hidden remote machine. (hidden: only responds to requests from it's vpn peer /drops all other packets/ and uses a different interface for it's external traffic)

    For those who want to have fun, they can use a virtualized system with their real (host) os running without external interfaces and their network enabled (guest) os acting as a decoy (and possibly loaded with data files that look personal but contain custom multi os worms/trojans/viruses/bombs).

  9. Nexox Enigma

    My laptop didn't get owned...

    Last time I went I just had a fresh install of Slackware on my laptop, and I didn't even try very hard not to get owned...

    This year though, I'll be tunneling all my traffic, including DNS to the VPN that I run on my desktop at work, after hopping through a university Linux server. I've heard stories that people ssh to a computer, someone sniffs the destination address, and owns that box, so I plan to only expose attack surface that I don't own...

    Should be good fun, except I hear that the weather is supposed to be interesting. 101 Degrees F during massive thunder/rain storms. I'd bet good money that it won't just be a dry heat any more.

    Best get myself to sleep so I'm fresh for the road trip tomorrow.

  10. Stephen Kapp

    Simpler Security Measures

    Even simpler security measures for when your at DefCon.


    Take a couple of pens and a notebook for note taking, ideas, etc.

  11. Scottie Taylor

    False security

    I agree with Brian, there is no such thing as totally secure. This is Defcon. This is the most hostile computer network in existance. You will get hacked eventually. Unless you're the second coming or something there is always someone out there that knows that one critical bit of information that you don't that exploit that one tiny insignificant flaw and then it's over.

    But, hey, it's a learning experiance. If you can survive Defcon and walk away with all that nice new information they hand out so readily there, securing most other computers and networks should be cake in comparison. Note the most however, there are, of course, jobs and systems where it's pretty much a given your system will come under constant attack.

    But go, have fun, enjoy yourself and take something from it.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Or do what I always do and have done for the last 4-5 years now. DON'T stay at the Defcon Hotel which always sucks anyway. AND leave your laptop in your hotel safe. Makes going to Defcon a MUCH more pleasurable experience. Get your email at night. But still use a VPN, hotels aren't all that safe even if they aren't hosting Defcon.

  13. dude

    Live CD Anyone?

    You can always have an NTFS host OS, then slap Back|Track in when you are at the Con. This way the 2.6 kernel (which cant write to NTFS) could be compromised, but nothing permanant would be probable.

    Of course read access is still possible, so dont store NTLM hashes in yer registry or have personal data on the laptop... Strike that, bring lots of pictures of your WIfe, and pictures of your Girlfriend for teh people to post ;-)


  14. David

    Were I going...

    It'd be simple to secure my box. I'd just remove my m-pci WiFi card and run on my AT&T HSDPA card. What have we got for that?

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