Black Hat 2018: I partied with The Fixer and 17,000 hackers

August 29, 20184 minute read

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Nontechnical media may have led you to believe Black Hat 2018 was a dangerous gathering of cryptojacking criminal eggheads. While not quite fake news, the truth’s more nuanced. Being on the ground at Black Hat was like drifting in an overwhelming sea of polo shirts and gut-wrenching announcements about endpoint security issues. This year’s briefings touched on critical flaws in smart city gear and a demo of airplane hacking—pretty terrifying stuff.

But not all of Black Hat was doom and gloom. There were plenty of opportunities to relax and even more opportunities to party. The HP Recharge Lounge, for example, was a welcome respite with a green screen photo booth and a meet and greet with Jonathan Banks, who plays The Fixer.

Jonathan Banks the HP Fixer

What really happens in Vegas?

At first, I didn’t know what to expect from this year’s conference, but I ended up walking at least 12,000 steps over the course of an 8-hour day at the 2.1 million square foot Mandalay Bay Convention Center. The next surprise came that evening: In a 107 heat index, 6:00 p.m. should have been time for Netflix and hydrate, but for Black Hatters, 6:30 p.m. was the time to start partying hard.

Nineteen parties open to most Black Hat attendees took place this year, alongside countless more exclusive gatherings. It required serious professional dedication, but I made it to as many parties as I could in a 30-hour period to experience cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, clubbing, and celebrities.

Aureole

The world’s tallest wine rack is a four-story, glass-encased tower holding up to 10,000 bottles. Wine is retrieved by a cable aerialist. This party also connected me with the most delicious honey-walnut grilled cheese in the universe.

Aureole Wine Angel

Foundation Room

The elevators to Foundation Room travel 63 stories so fast your ears might pop. Once upstairs, blue margaritas were poured over an ice sculpture, and I gazed out at some amazing views of the south Las Vegas strip from an unenclosed balcony.

63 stories above Las Vegas

Light Nightclub

Biz Markie performed. Need I say more? After waiting in a big line, I danced to a Markie-spun mix of top 40 and old-school hits. Biz Markie may have had more rhythm than the average Black Hat USA attendee, but overall, nerds in fedoras dance surprisingly well.

Biz Markie at Light Nightclub

Skyfall Lounge

Seeing the Las Vegas strip from 64-stories up at night is glittery. The opulence of the venue was a slightly bizarre contrast to the retro arcade games and discussions of graph theory found elsewhere at the conference, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Las Vegas skyline at night looking down the Strip** Note: Slight graininess, best at smaller sizes

HP reception at Stripsteak

My most memorable moments were spent at an exclusive HP reception at Stripsteak, a sophisticated Mandalay Bay steakhouse, with a glass of red wine and a bacon-wrapped lobster bite with a small VIP guest list. While there, I talked to Tommy Gardner about our mutual love of fitness before asking him about his professional role. He laughed, held up his conference badge, and gave a huge understatement: “I do just a little.”

As it turns out, Dr. Gardner is the CTO of HP Federal. He’s remarkably humble for an individual with grad degrees from MIT and Harvard and a research role at the Blockchain Institute. We talked extensively about the evolving role of security, and Gardner doled out a little of his security wisdom: He believes individuals with the ability to communicate and translate tech concepts into business risk for the board are critically needed—especially in a world where endpoint security risks are raging and the CISO has more responsibility than ever.

Dr. Gardner and I also agreed that Season 3 of The Wolf is officially the edgiest installment in the series to date, after the exclusive premiere of the trailer at Black Hat 2018. Check out the full film here:

I also talked with luminary Justine Bone of the HP Security Advisory Board about our shared excitement over the Pwnie awards and the fact Black Hat 2018 was more gender-diverse than ever before. Michael Howard also remarked on how cool it was that Black Hat briefings were focused on security hygiene and endpoint topics.

It was just your average security reception, except completely different because the guest list was full of genuinely great people—and star-studded, too.

Biting back with The Fixer

As it turns out, Jonathan Banks is the most down-to-earth individual you will ever meet in your life. He’s got a firm handshake and something sincere to say to everyone. Banks shared a story about growing up with a single mother in Washington, D.C. and how he began acting in high school. For the record, Banks said his experience on Breaking Bad was just as fun as you’d expect.

Banks is genuinely interested in other people—and endpoint security. He asked loads of questions about HP’s culture and then told Michael Howard he’d come and work for the HP Security Advisors team. After four hours at the party, Banks patiently greeted fans on the casino floor and took a selfie next to the newly installed Breaking Bad slot machine.

All in all, the conference flew by and even the parties were informative. The state of cybersecurity is definitely a concern, but if we all band together to fight back against the hackers out there, we can protect our businesses and the world at large. I firmly believe cybersecurity is in good hands after experiencing this year’s Black Hat event.

Curious about the type of security insights revealed during the day at Black Hat? Check out Tektonika’s initial coverage of the conference, with “Black Hat 2018: Michael Howard talks IoT technology risks,” and click subscribe at the top of the page to stay tuned for more updates from Black Hat.

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