18 May NoSuchCon 2013
08 Jan 29c3 Hamburg / DE
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Fostering knowledge exchange among different generations of security researchers is maybe one of the best traits of a good security conference. Judging by its attendance, NoSuchCon can easily claim to be one of these. It's rare to see such a mix of young researchers and old gurus exchanging ideas and getting to know each other. Organized this year in Paris, NoSuchCon takes place in the premises of the Espace Oscar Niemeyer; admittedly, indeed a nice move putting a security conference within an art exposition center (congrats to the organizers :)) .
Every year as Europe wakes up from the cold winter to the warm days of spring, BlackHat traditionally descends to Amsterdam. This year’s conference is taking place on March 14-15 at the NH Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky, right Dam Square, the heart of Amsterdam. As spring doesn’t necessarily equal warm days here in Europe right now, the 500 or so BlackHat participants hit the conference rooms to attend quite a few interesting talks. Here’s a summary of the best talks at BlackHat Europe 2013.
We’ve recently experienced yet another case of a root certificate authority (CA from now on) losing control of its own certificates. And yet again, we have been waiting for either the CA or the browser to do something about it. This whole mess stems, once again, from both a governance and a technical problem. First, only the very same CA that issued a certificate can later revoke it. Second, although web browsers implement several techniques to check the certificate’s revocation status, errors in the procedure are rarely considered hard failures.
The last week of 2012 marked the 29th installment of the Chaos Communication Congress. Organized by the Chaos Computer Club (CCC), the congress is an annual conference on technology and its impact on society. Although the scope may look quite loose, both lectures and workshops typically revolve around privacy, freedom of information, data security and other hacking issues. Needless to say, it has always been a great success; huge, considering that black-hat sized events here in Europe are not that common. Take, for instance, the fact that this year the congress had to be held in Hamburg, as Berlin could not offer a congress center fit enough to host more than 6000 attendees. Trust me, this number was not an exaggeration at all!
I admit my expectations were quite high: after four long years of scientific symposia going back to more technical venues was indeed putting my brain in hunger-mode. However, having experienced what it means organizing events for medium sized scientific conferences, I was honestly puzzled about turning a huge building such as the Congress Center of Hamburg in a functional place ready to host lectures, workshops, and hack spaces. Boy I was wrong to be worried about it. The event lasted 4 whole days (from the 27th to the 30th) with an impeccable organization: not only were all lectures and workshops flawlessly organized, streamed, and chaired; but also all open spaces were collectivized and used for all kind of hacking purposes, from playing CTF to entry-level courses on the Arduino platform.
The speakers on the other hand could take advantage of extremely well-sized rooms, with the most important talks having available an auditorium able to host more than 2000 people. Nevertheless, I have to say I was forced to learn one thing pretty fast: if you are interested in a topic, and that topic happens to be quite a hot one, well, be ready to get to the room at least 15 minutes before show-time; seriously, being on time never worked; any room, regardless of the capacity, was liable to get full. Believe me, I was really thankful for the flawless streaming infrastructure (watching a talk on my laptop that was taking place just few meters away was indeed paradoxical :) ).
The first day's line up was respectable. The keynote was given by Jacob Appelbaum, known for his contributions to "The Tor Project", and also former spokesperson for WikiLeaks. After the usual introductions, he explained the reasons of this year's congress' zeitgeist "Not My Department". We all have heard this sentence at least once in our lives; usually uttered to belittle other people's arguments, it has always been used as an example of a closed mindset at work. Jacob's point was that this attitude is even more detrimental in an inter-connected world. What is the use of a privacy-preserving bill if our data flows through the routers of oppressive governments potentially assembling huge data sets about our lives? A new level of awareness is therefore suggested.