Home Hacking 11 top DEF CON and Black Hat talks of all time

11 top DEF CON and Black Hat talks of all time


Since 1997, the Black Hat and DEF CON events have gained a reputation for presenting some of the most cutting-edge research in information security. The events have also had their share of controversy – sometimes enough to cause last-minute cancelations. For example, Chris Paget was forced to cancel his Black Hat RFID for Beginners talk in 2007 under threat of litigation from secure card maker HID Corp.

Launched as a single conference in 1997, Black Hat has gone international with annual events in the U.S., Europe and Asia. This year’s U.S. event at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, begins August 3 with four days of technical training, followed by the two-day main conference. DEF CON began in 1992 and also takes place in multiple locations in Las Vegas from August 8 to 11.

CSO looks at some of the past Black Hat and DEF CON highlights.

1. The Jeep hack

Who can forget 0xcharlie’s hack of a Jeep–with WIRED reporter Andy Greenberg inside? Security researchers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek presented their findings at Black Hat 2015, and showed how they remotely hacked a jeep and took control of the vehicle, including the transmission, accelerator and brakes. Their previous research had focused on an attack that required physical access to the targeted vehicle, results that auto manufacturers pooh-poohed. The remote, wireless attack, however, made everyone sit up and take notice.

2. Steal everything, kill everybody

Jayson E. Street’s famous DEF CON 19 talk on social engineering, and how he is able to walk into anywhere and could “steal everything, kill everybody” if he wanted to is a perennial favorite talk even all these years later. Who cares if your enterprise is compliant if a random dude in a janitor’s uniform comes in and pulls the plug on your business? Street bluntly lays out the secure sites he’s talked his way into, what he could have done, and hammers home the need for defense in depth against social engineering attacks.

3. Hacking driverless vehicles

Seems inevitable, right? But sometimes you need a proof of concept to drive the point home (pun intended), and security researcher Zoz did just that at DEF CON 21 with his talk “Hacking driverless vehicles“. While driverless vehicles hold the potential to reduce traffic fatalities–turns out humans are really bad drivers–they also introduce new, catastrophic risk that is less likely but far more severe in impact. “With this talk Zoz aims to both inspire unmanned vehicle fans to think about robustness to adversarial and malicious scenarios, and to give the paranoid false hope of resisting the robot revolution,” the talk description says, and the scary thing is not much has changed since he delivered his talk in 2013.

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