DEF CON is a must-attend conference for cybersecurity professionals. Just like cybersecurity, DEF CON is big and confusing at first. There is so much to do and see; it can be overwhelming. There is also still a bit of that old hacker mentality that you should only be here if you are smart enough to figure it out. So I wanted to put together a DEF CON 31 guide for those who plan to attend for the first time.
DEF CON 31 is from August 10 through to the 13th. If you have not yet booked a room and flight, jump on that!
The tips and resources I provide within this post are based on details collected during DEF CON 30 in 2022. Some things may change, but most things for DEF CON 31 will be the same.
Do Your Homework Before DEF CON 31
DEF CON has a lot of activities, speeches, CTFs, and more. There are so many things that you can easily be lost in what is happening. To maximize your DEF CON 31 experience, write out a plan of what you want to see.
DEF CON 31 Villages
Something I didn’t fully understand at my first DEF CON is the villages are mostly independent of DEF CON itself. So each DEF CON Village has its own talk schedules, CTFs, workshops, and classes. If you are interested in a particular village, check out that village’s website for full details of what is happening.
If you are unsure what villages there are, start in the DEF CON Villages forums for a list and details about each village.
DEF CON Official Calendar
Check the DEF CON official calendar to find events at the conference.
Day 1 of DEF CON is just LineCon
So the first day of the conference does not have much going on. I would say you don’t even need to be there the first day if it was not for a few factors. Here is what you should do on the first day of the conference.
- Line up to get your DEF CON badge. Go early because they can and have run out of badges. You are really going to want one of the badges.
- Right after you get your DEF CON 31 badge, get in the merch line. Again, some merch will run out on the first day, and you will not want to miss out.
That is it; not much is happening on DEF CON’s first day. So make new friends in LineCon, and plan to meet up at DEF CON 31 parties when the sun goes down. Seriously, even introverts like myself can find a way to make new friends in LineCon. I mean, they’re trapped in line with you for like 3-hours, so you have time to think of a way to start a conversation.
Registering Online Skips the Line
For DEF CON 30, if you paid online ahead of time, you get to skip some of the registration lines. The registration line starts in the main hallway and leads into a large room. Once I was through the hallway line, I noticed there was a separate online registration line. This line was short, and I could walk right up to it, skipping the long cash registration line. I don’t know if this will be the same at DEF CON 31, but it might be.
DEF CON 31 Workshops – Day 1 Planning Exception!
The big day 1 DEF CON 31 planning exception is workshops. Workshops are held on day one and run for 4 hours each. DEF CON workshops typically cost $25 USD but with very limited seats, an average of 50 per workshop. So you need to sign up for these workshops as soon as they are announced. Otherwise, you will miss out.
Workshops for DEF CON 31 are announced on the DEF CON forums at the link below. For DEF CON 30, workshops were announced on July 5th, so pay attention around that time!
You can also follow the DEF CON WORKSHOPS account on Eventbrite.
UPDATE 6-28-2023: The forums have been updated with workshop listings. However, workshop registration will not open until July 5th at 12 PM.
Bring Cash to DEF CON 31!
Cash is king, and most vendors will only accept cold hard cash. That goes for merch, too, although some will take credit cards. However, it is a gamble of who will and will not accept CCs, so just to be safe, don’t plan on using a CC.
Bring those green-backs if you plan to get dripped in dope DEF CON merch!
DEF CON Location Confusion
DEF CONmoved a few years back to the Caesars Forum. Caesars Forum is not to be confused with Caesars Palace; they are in two different and far apart locations(a 15-minute walk). If you book a room at Caesars Palace because DEF CON is at Caesars Forum, you will regret it.
This is the address for DEF CON: “CAESARS FORUM, 3911 S Koval Ln, Las Vegas, NV 89109“
Bring Snacks to DEF CON 31
The Caesars Forum does not have any food options inside. So if you are hungry you will need to take a 5 to 10-minute walk to get food. Combining that with the time it takes to order and get food means you can miss a whole talk session.
Bringing a water bottle is not a bad idea, but you will find nice water dispensers all over Caesars Forum. So the water bottle may not be worth the extra carrying weight.
Protect Yourself! Have a BlueTeam State of Mind
Not everyone at DEF CON is a WhiteHat Hacker; personally, I think they’re mostly GreyHats. So you should take some steps to protect yourself. Here are a few things you can do to stay protected.
- Have a full tunnel VPN configured on your phone and laptop. This will ensure that your traffic will be encrypted even using sketchy Wifi. You don’t want to show up on the wall of sheep!
- Make a complete backup of all your devices. This is just good general advice before going on a vacation.
- Enable Bitlocker or full disk encryption on all your devices. Encase devices are stolen or lost, your data will not be at risk.
- Store all RFID and NFC cards, like credit cards, passports, and especially hotel room keys, in a Faraday bag. Faraday bags are cheap on Amazon.
Fun story, at DEF CON 30, my mother-in-law’s hotel room was broken into. Nothing was taken, but an item and a note with the date were left behind. I have a feeling she said something rude to the wrong people and became the target of some unsanctioned CTF shenanigans. Someone likely used a FlipperZero to clone her hotel room key.
LOL, this is why I love you fucking degenerates. <3
CTFs and Challenges, Plan in Advance
There are sooo many CTFs you can participate in. However, if you think you will just find one and start hacking away at it, think again. Don’t misunderstand me, you can do that, but you likely will not get that far. Most CFTs require special software, tools, and niche expertise. This means you must plan for the CTFs you want to do in advance.
This brings me to my next point. If you have not planned to do a CTF or workshop in advance, then you don’t need to bring your laptop to the convention center. You can keep your laptop in your room and not lug around a bunch of dead weight on your back. Trust me, a heavy backpack will kill your shoulders by the end of the day.
If you want to put your skills to the test, check out the DEF CON 31 Contests forum page.
Finding DEF CON 31 Parties
Many awesome parties are happening at DEF CON. However, finding them can be tricky. Here are a few places to find DEF CON 31 parties.
- @defconparties Twitter – This account is super helpful.
- DEF CON Parties Website – It’s a Google calendar page. DEF CON 31 parties have not yet been added.
- DEF CON Parties and Gathering Forums
- Also, when at the conference, ask around different villages. Some villages will have their own parties that may not make it onto any list.
Get the Hacker Tracker App
Hacker Tracker is the official DEF CON app for planning all things DEF CON. You need to have this app to keep track of all the talks, events, workshops, contests, etc… Make sure you download the app before DEF CON 31.
Android: Hacker Tracker – Schedule App
Apple IOS: HackerTracker
Final Tips for DEF CON 31
To wrap up this DEF CON 31 guide, I want to add some final words of advice. DEF CON is big and spread out between a few locations that are farther apart than you think. So don’t think you can see everything at the conference. Don’t feel like you need to leave an event or a talk you enjoy to try and see something else. If you are having a good time where you are, stay there. If you leave and come back, you may not be able to get back in.