Rick El-Darwish is the blogger behind FAIL Tale. A computer scientist, systems and networks administrator, and computer forensics and security specialist, Rick is also the Chief Technical Officer of St. Noble, a company that handles the IT and computer security needs of non-governmental organizations.
In early August, Rick went to Las Vegas to attend Defcon, a large annual hacker convention that has been running since 1993. Rick has attended since 2008, joining a group of several thousand computer security professionals, employees of various government agencies, hackers, crackers, and security researchers. The convention takes place over several days and includes presentations, workshops, competitions and games, and social events. Following the conference, we interviewed Rick about his experience and his advice for getting the most out of attending a conference.
KRED: Do you have a strategy when you go to a conference like Defcon and is this strategy different than one you’d use at a smaller conference?
Rick: I think my approach is pretty much the same for any conference, large or small: it truly is what you make of it.
In a previous job, I gave training courses to different groups, and the most common presentation I was asked to give was one on e-mail alerts and RSS feeds and the benefits that these tools can offer.
I just re-read Clifford Stoll’s 1989 book, Cuckoo’s Egg: Tracking a Spy Through the Maze of Computer Espionage, a chronicle of his self-reflections as he tracks who is breaking into the computer systems at his research lab. A well-worn copy awaited me on my university library shelves. Was my own paperback lent to someone long ago or perhaps passed on to a used book sale or taken by one of my kids?
Anyhow, Cuckoo’s Egg, so titled to refer to the cuckoo’s habit of “brood parasitism” – laying her eggs in another cuckoo’s nest, is written in non-technical language. It is one of the first popular books about the intricacies of Internet communications. While the technology is so old now (when did you last think about or even know of Tymnet?), it was surprisingly enjoyable and thought provoking. Yes, Stoll could have used a good editor (the first time reading of one of his bicycle dashes from home to the lab was charming but the endless detail of the tracing of the hacker gets a bit boring) but even so re-reading his book reminded me of serious matters about this big, new thing, the Internet. Back in the ’80’s, he knew that hacking could endanger this extraordinary communications network that 21st century life relies on.