Wow. What a crazy couple of weeks. This will be a long post. I have so much to catch up on.
I left Uganda for Vegas on July 18th.
After many long months of preparation, I led Offensive Security’s Penetration Testing with Backtrack (PWB) course at Blackhat alongside rAWjAW, dijital1 and loneferret. I had attended and spoken at Blackhat many times over the years, but I had never taught a course. To make matters worse, I felt like I had been technically atrophied after five years preparing for and living in Uganda. It had been nearly a decade since I led a training course. And the icing on the cake was that this was Muts’ baby; a course he developed and led successfully for more than a decade. I had some big shoes to fill.
A friend reminded me of my speaking successes in an attempt to give me a boost, but I told him I’d much rather be on a stage in front of ten thousand people delivering a well-prepared talk than spend several days teaching twenty or so people. “The classroom is too intimate,” I told him. “It’s way too much time for people to discover my weaknesses.”
As the first grueling day passed, I found my stride. I also found a familiar feeling that I usually try to suppress: When I’m teaching I feel like I’m wired for it.
My Offensive Security friends were an incredible help. Each and every one of them supported me in some way, even as they were teaching their own (technically more difficult) courses. By the end of the week, they had become family to me.
The course was a success. Not perfect, but good, at least according to the student feedback. I’m so grateful to our students.
After a day of rest, it was time for Defcon. As always, we had a great group of volunteers including Justin Brown, Llew Brown, Charlie Brown, Rob Dixon, Glenn Eccard, Sam Kinch, Eric Millam, Dave McCartney, Ronin and Chris Simpson (listed in alphabetic order). These folks worked tirelessly to set up and man our booth. Most worked at their own expense, missing most of the conference to support our efforts at the booth. I couldn’t pay them if I wanted to. Most refused HFC-funded badges, insisting that we “use the money in Uganda”.
I took them out to dinner a few times, and although it was expensive (what isn’t in Vegas), it wasn’t nearly enough to fully express my gratitude. Thank you for your support and friendship, guys.
Others donated goodies for our silent auction, including Larry Pesce (@haxorthematrix), Paul dot com (@pauldotcom), No Starch Press (@nostarch), Pwnie Express (@PwnieExpress), Ettercap Project (@EttercapProject), Mini Pwner (@minipwner), Myles Conley (Shmoo Group/tenhand) , Offensive Security (@offsectraining), Chris Hadnagy (@humanhacker), J.P (@r0wnin), Dave Kennedy (@dave_rel1k), Charliex (@nullspace), Parallax (@ParallaxInc) and many others who I’m likely forgetting. My friend Jim Manley was also good enough to bring me a stash of leather supplies for our leather project.
All said, our auction raised thousands of dollars for HFC which wouldn’t be possible without these donors and VERY importantly, our bidders, some of whom bid and win at just about every major conference. Thank you all!
Some donation items did better than others. Most notably was the Defcon über badge, donated by none other than LosT, which was won by none other than H.D. Moore who bid over $3,500 to support us. All I can say is, “Wow” and once again, THANK YOU. But the story doesn’t end there.
I’m always blown away by the support from the contests at Defcon and this year was no exception. Most notable this year was Mohawkcon (http://www.facebook.com/MohawkCon) who raised over $2,100 for us! I had fun stopping by their area and I was amazed at how much effort those girls put into the contest. (Were there any guys actually cutting hair?) Each time I stopped by there was a line of attendees waiting to get their mohawk on. I’m so grateful to them all for the time, effort and money they put into supporting us.
Halfway through the weekend I was flat-out exhausted, and I was in a really bad mood. The hotel didn’t have my room ready and I had just shlepped all my stuff from Caesar’s. I was hot, hungry, worn out and grumpy. To make matters worse, I was late for the start of the day. This was not a good start to the day.
As I entered the vendor area (with my vendor badge proudly displayed) I got redirected by a goon that I didn’t recognize. He told me that I couldn’t go in because the area was roped off for a “V.I.P.” I told him in no uncertain terms that I didn’t care and that I just wanted to get to my booth.
(I want to take a moment to clarify that I have nothing against Goons, even the new ones..some of which are younger than the con. =p On the contrary, I am indebted to them for busting their butts to keep Defcon moving and keep everyone safe. I’m blessed to call many of them old friends.)
I eventually made my way to my booth and grumbled a greeting to my volunteers, adding that this V.I.P. thing was really pissing me off. Glenn mentioned that “General Alexander” was coming to visit our booth. I made some grumpy response that the other guys thought was mildly amusing. No sooner had I said that, an entourage entered the vendor hall. It consisted of a dozen goons, a few cameramen, a guy I didn’t recognize and none other than DT himself, Jeff Moss.
“Oh, yay,” I joked. “Here comes the carnival.”
Well, that “carnival” proceeded to enter the vendor booth and walk right up to our booth. I looked at Jeff and blinked twice. (For those of you that don’t know, that’s the universally cool way of saying, “Hey, old friend. How’s it going? Been a long time. Who’s your pal?”)
Jeff picked up on my signal (he’s cool that way) and introduced me to none other than General Keith B. Alexander, USA, “the Commander, U.S. Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM) and Director, National Security Agency/Chief, Central Security Service (NSA/CSS), Fort George G. Meade, MD.”
Turns out, Jeff had gone to all this trouble to introduce us to the General to “show a well-rounded” Defcon.
With the cameras rolling, we were able to explain to the General what we were about and hook him up with a T-Shirt.
Jeff stepped in again and mentioned some (overly) specific details about my years working with DoD, to which the General thanked me for my “service to the country.”
General Alexander shook my hand, and accepted the “i hack charities” T-shirt I offered him.
When they left, my head was spinning. I could only blink and manage my best Keanu Reaves: “Woah”..
This was a terrific reminder. The words of Clint Eastwood (The Spirit of the West in Rango) came to mind: “It’s not about you. It’s about them.”
This motivated me to keep on my feet and enjoy the time talking to old friends and meeting new ones, sometimes about the “cause”, sometimes about security, sometimes about Africa and sometimes just about “stuff”.
By the end of the two weeks in Vegas I was totally dehydrated, hoarse and limping from all the blisters, but more than anything, I felt blessed and very, very grateful.
What an amazing community effort. I’m so proud to be a part of it. Thank you all!