I’ve begun to think about what I’ll take to Hacker Summer Camp this year, and I
thought I’d share some of it as part of my Hacker Summer Camp blog post series.
I hope it will be useful to veterans, but particularly to first timers who might
have no idea what to expect – as that’s how I felt my first time.
Since it’s gotten so close, I’ll also talk about what steps you should take to
I won’t state the obvious in terms of packing most of your basic needs,
including clothing and toiletries, but I will remind you that Las Vegas will be
super hot. Bring clothes for hot days, and pack deodorant! Keep in mind that
some of the clubs have a dress code, so if that’s your thing, you’ll want to
bring clubbing clothes. (The dress code tends not to be too high, but often
pants and a collared shirt.)
I will suggest bringing a reusable water bottle to help cope with the heat.
Just before last summer camp, I bought a
Simple Modern vacuum insulated bottle, and I
absolutely love it. I’ll bring it again this year to stay hydrated. Because I
hate heat, I’ll also be bringing a cooling towel,
which is surprisingly effective at cooling me off. Perhaps it’s a placebo
effect, but I’ll take it.
Remember that large parts of DEF CON are cash only, so you’ll need to bring cash
(obviously). At least $300 for a badge, plus more for swag, bars, etc. ATMs on
the casino floors are probably safe to use, but will still charge you fairly
There’s two schools of thought on bringing tech gear: minimalist and kitchen
sink. I happen to be in the kitchen sink side of things. I’ll be bringing my
laptop and about a whole bunch of accessories. In fact, I have a whole travel
kit that I’ll detail in a future post, but a few highlights include:
On the other hand, some people want the disconnected experience and bring little
to no tech. Sometimes this is because of concerns over “being hacked”, but
sometimes this is just to focus on the face-to-face time.
There are some consumables where I just find it easier to ship to my hotel.
Note that the hotel will charge you for receiving a package, but I still find
it cheaper/easier to have these things delivered directly.
Getting a case of water delivered is much cheaper than buying from the hotel
gift shop. Another option is to hit up a CVS or Walgreens on the strip for some
I’m a bit of a Red Bull addict, so I often get a few packs delivered to have on
hand. The Red Bull Red Edition is a nice twist on
the classic that’s worth a try if you haven’t had the pleasure.
Safety & Security
DEF CON has a reputation for being the “most dangerous network in the world”,
but I think this is completely overblown. It defies logic that an attacker with
a 0-day on a modern operating system would use it to perform untargeted attacks
at DEF CON. If their traffic is captured, they’ve burned their 0-day, and
probably to grab some random attendees data – it’s just not worth it to them.
That being said, you shouldn’t make yourself a target either. There are some
simple steps you can (and should) take to protect yourself:
- Use a VPN service for your traffic. I like Private Internet
Access for a commercial provider.
- Don’t connect to open WiFi networks.
- Don’t accept certificate errors.
- Don’t plug your phone into strange USB plugs.
- Use HTTPS
These are all simple steps to protect yourself, both at DEF CON, and in general.
You really ought to observe them all the time – the internet is a dangerous
place in general!
To be honest, I worry more about physical security in Las Vegas – don’t carry
too much cash, keep your wits about you, and watch your belongings. Use the
in-room safe (they’re not perfect, but they’re better than nothing) to protect
Be aware of hotel policies on entering rooms – ever since the Las Vegas
shooting, they’ve become much more invasive with forcing their way into hotel
rooms. I recommend keeping anything valuable locked up and out of sight, and be
aware of potential impostors using the pretext of being a hotel employee.
Good luck, and have fun in just over a week!