I like to read about other people's experiences at security conferences, so I've decided to write about my experience at BSides Tampa 2018.

For those who don't already know, BSides are community-driven regional security conferences.  BSides events happen in cities across the world.  They are much smaller events than big-budget security conferences like Blackhat or Defcon.  In the past 2 years or so, I've spoken at BSides Augusta, BSides Austin, BSides Iowa, BSides Puerto Rico, and BSides San Antonio.  Regardless of the scale, all of these conferences impressed me in one way or another.

In my experience, BSides Tampa 2018 ranks up there with the best of them.  2014 was the first official BSides at Tampa, so 2018 marks their 4th annual event.  I talked with some of the organizers, and BSides Tampa has grown since 2014.  2018 was their biggest conference so far with 5 tracks.  That's 5 speakers talking at any given hour during the conference!

BSides Tampa 2018 was hosted in the Tampa Law Center at Stetson College.  From what I remember, the main courtroom for Track 1 had seats for approximately 200 spectators.  Rooms for Track 2 and Track 3 each had seats for about 100 spectators.  Rooms for Track 4 and Track 5 had seats for about 50 spectators.  Overall, the seating capacity was about 500, and the conference had approximately 700 people registered.

Shown above:  Tampa Law Center at Stetson College on the day of the event.


Shown above:  People lining up to get their BSides Tampa conference badges and tshirts.


Shown above:  Inside the Tampa Law Center during BSides Tampa 2018.


Shown above:  The William Reece Smith Jr. Courtroom where Track 1 happened.


There was a mix of speakers from the local area and speakers from out of town.  From a speaker perspective, February is a great month to be in Florida.  If your employer pays your travel expenses like mine did, this is a highly-desirable conference to speak at.  I expect BSides Tampa will continue to attract submissions from speakers located in colder locations.  Especially if this conference keeps growing.

Talking with some of the conference organizers, behind the scenes had a few bits of chaos.  But I think that's normal.  It all appeared fairly smooth from my end.

A recording of my talk is here, if anyone's interested.



I talked with a few of the speakers who flew in to present at the conference.  I also had good conversations with some of the conference volunteers.  I even got to meet @noottrak and @mesa_matt in person (it's always awesome to see the faces behind the tweets).  I had a great time talking and meeting with everyone.

After the conference ended, a few of us hung around the building to talk and socialize.  Joe Gray gave me a shot of Don Julio in a paper cup.  It was literally the first time I drank a shot of tequila in more than 30 years.  Why the long wait?  I got sick on tequila as a much younger man, and I couldn't stand the smell of it for a very long time.  So thanks, Joe!  BSidesTampa 2018 marks my re-introduction to tequila.

A group of about 10 of us that included @C_3PJoe, @jack_daniel, and @killianditch walked to the Armature Works building at the Height Waterfront sometime around 8 PM that Saturday.  I should've taken some pictures.  It's an old buidling dating back to 1910 that was once a warehouse for Tampa's streetcar system.  It's now rennovated as mixed-use commercial space.  Among other things, it contains some restraunts and bars, but the building retains much of it's historic flavor.  It was packed with people on a Saturday night.  Armature Works was fun, but it was just a bit too hipster for some of us.

Shown above:  On our way to Armitage Works, we saw someone had left a pair of courduroy pants on a fence.  No pant-less person was nearby.


Seeking something less hispter, we returned to the hotel to drop off our backpacks.  We lost a few people and gained some others, including @GregTampa and @irongeek_adc.  Then we walked two blocks over to downtown Ybor.  I gotta tell you, downtown Ybor was a blast!  The area had a chill vibe that reminded me of downtown Austin Texas on a summer night.  There was a fairly diverse crowd, and it had a very inclusive atmosphere.  It's the kind of place you can be a somewhat prudish late-middle age white guy like me and still feel welcome, or you could go wild and possibly pick up an STD the next morning.  Except for the STD, it's all good.

I only had one beer, but we all had great conversations and some decent bar food.  Many of us stayed sane and sober that evening, and I returned to the hotel around midnight.  I can't vouch for some of the others in our group.



Bruce Anderson - You Can Run... But You Can't Hide!

Cyber crimes are outpacing local police departments, state attourneys, and judges.  They do not have the experience, tools, training, or resources to handle cyber crime.  But these criminal acts can be traced and prosecuted.  Commerical organizations fill the gap by investigating these acts, pursuing cyber criminals, and present the evidence in an understandable package ready for prosecution.  Bruce explains techniques used in theses crimes and associated investigations, and he reviews some cases examples.  His talk doesn't reveal any identifies except where the information was already public.  It did a good job of illustrating how vulnerable we are based on our social media presence, but it also shows how the criminals are also vulnerable.  The case details were very interesting.  Bruce wasn't a dynamic speaker, but he had an easy stage presence, and the material was compelling.  This was a good talk in the main courtroom that was well-attended.

I talked with Bruce the evening before at a dinner hosted by BSidesTampa for speakers and volunteers.  He's a very down-to-earth guy, and I enjoyed getting to know him a bit.


Ira Winkler - Advanced Persistent Threat vs Advanced Persistent Security

Ira is an energetic speaker, I'm a big fan of talks that correct misuse of the term APT.  In most cases, these attacks are not at all advanced, even if they are persistent.  Ira reviews several high-profile examples that could've easily been stopped with proper planning and basic security measures.

Unfortunately, the recording has some audio problems.  The first 11 minutes or so are mute in the Youtube video.


G. Mark Hardy: Blockchain - The New Digital Swiss Army Knife?

This speaker sounds like a newscaster, or maybe someone doing a TED talk.  It's a speaking style I enjoy.  Also, the subject is very timely.  Even though I already knew some of this information at the beginning of the presentation, he hooked me.


Greg Hanis - Fraud; Should you worry?

This was a great final keynote.  In person, it feels like he's talking to everyone in the audience as an old friend.  Not many people can pull that off, but Greg manages it nicely.  I always enjoy someone describing their experiences tracking down the people behind various acts of cyber crime.  It's also nice to hear examples reflecting the frustration many of us have in trying to fix these issues and stop the criminals.


Logan Hicks - Self Healing Cyber Weapons

I've met several people that write code, but none were energetic talkers like Logan.  You might call him loquacious, and he'd probably agree.  Logan brings an energy to his talk matched by few others.  I found his presentation style compelling, and I found the material very interesting.  He was a fun guy to talk with.

One item noted during his presentation: The US state of Georgia is currently pushing legislation that will effectively outlaw various software tools commonly used by red teams to assess the security posture of their clients.  According to Logan, these types of legal measures will force highly-skilled people to leave the affected states, and even the US itself.  A partial quote by Logan during the Q&A:
"It's highly anticipated within the next 1 to 3 years that the US will most likely experience a severe brain drain of high-end cyber security talent from which they will never recover.  And seeing as how the new battlezone is based directly in cyber, it's incredibly likely that that will be the ultimate downfall for the US military..."


Joe Gray - Advanced Social Engineering and OSINT for Penetration Testing

Joe is another loquacious person I talked with during the conference.  As usual, many of us find social engineering stories very compelling, and Joe's talk was packed!  He's an experienced speaker at ease in front of a crowd.  This was a fun presentation, and he got a few laughs along the way.  One of my favorite parts of his talk follows:
"Here's another one I'm a huge fan of.  Call up their firewall administrators, and get them to open, like, port 4444.  It's Metasploit.  Nothing big.  Yep.  Whatever.  But if you can get them to open a port and let you in, why burn your exploits and beat your head against the wall trying to get a SQL injection to work on some ultra-segmented public-facing web server, when you can get access to everything because you just got a firewall port opened?  I mean, it might take a little more work, and you might have to tiptoe, tapdance and, you know, do the ballet over the phone, but hey?  You know?  If you're like me and you talk a lot, it really doesn't matter."


Nikita Mazurov and Kenneth Brown - Exothermic Data Destruction: Defeating Drive Recovery Forensics

We rely more and more on solid state drives (SSDs) for our storage needs, but they don't store data like traditional hard drives.  Reliably deleting data from an SSD is much harder than it was with those drives of old.  This was a rather low-key presentation near the end of the conference, right before the final keynote.  But any talk that ends with two speakers wearing chef hats and superhero-themed aprons is alright by me.  An overlooked jem, I think.  Give this one a shot, if you're interested in data destruction and how to reliably incinerate an SSD.

Shown above: Serving up a recipe for data destruction.



BSides Tampa 2018 was a fun and rewarding conference.  Part of it was the great weather in February, but most of it was the people involved.  I enjoyed my time in Tampa, and I hope to present there again!


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