Is Black Hat Coming of Age?

July 30, 2015
| |
2 min read

The annual Black Hat conference returns to the U.S. for the 18th year next month, taking place Aug. 1 to 6 in Las Vegas. Since its initial inception, Black Hat has broadened its scope, and events are now held around the world. An inaugural mobile security summit has already been held in London this year, but the upcoming conference is what draws the crowds.

Black Hat was originally founded to offer highly technical briefings and training sessions for both hackers and security professionals. It has gained a certain notoriety for the antics that go on at the conference, but most of the hacking presented offers an educational element that should ultimately improve security posture.

The conferences are also renowned for the disclosures made during sessions. For example, presenters have shown how to defeat numerous enterprise security systems, as well as hack into smartphones, ATMs and even insulin pumps. Revelations from 2014 included how to access devices ranging from home alarm systems to cars, how to use USB sticks to spy on people or steal data and how an ultrasecure Blackphone can be compromised in under five minutes.

Black Hat Broadens Its Appeal

Today, Black Hat attracts many types of attendees. It may have originally catered to hackers, but today’s events are attended by representatives from government agencies and private sector organizations, as well. Increasingly, heavy focus is placed on tools that can be used to boost security or areas that need to be protected.

During the first four days, multiple training sessions are offered by various security vendors, ranging from beginner courses to lessons on advanced techniques. In 2011, the conference introduced Black Hat Arsenal, a demo area where new tools are showcased by independent security researchers and members of the open source community.

For the final two days, more traditional briefings take place, allowing researchers to explain and demonstrate new tools and techniques. This year there will be two talks given by IBM employees: “Breaking Payloads With Runtime Code Stripping and Image Freezing” by Matthias Neugschwandtner along with Collin Mulliner of Northeastern University; and “Understanding the Attack Surface and Attack Resilience of Project Spartan’s New EdgeHTML Rendering Engine” by Mark Vincent Yason. Both will be highly technical briefings that security practitioners should find valuable.

Alongside the briefings is a technology exhibition that features a huge roster of some of the best-known security vendors showing off their wares. Even if you’re not in the market for new investments, it’s always good to check out what companies are developing and what trends may be worthy of further investigation.

Bringing More Business Leaders Into the Fold

Black Hat is also turning its attention to chief information security officers (CISOs) and other security leaders. This year, the conference is introducing a CISO summit for the first time. As a separate event held before the main briefings and exhibition, this event will see 120 security-focused executives from Fortune 1000 corporations and federal agencies share their insights through speeches, discussions and panel sessions.

The lineup for 2015 shows that Black Hat is shaking off its image as a hacker’s paradise in favor of a more legitimate — but no less groundbreaking — showcase. It now has broader appeal, attracting attendees ranging from solo cyberworkers to high-ranking security executives. No longer the rambunctious teenager of the security world, Black Hat USA appears to be finally coming of age.

Fran Howarth
Senior Analyst, Bloor Research

Fran Howarth is an industry analyst and writer specialising in security. She has worked within the security technology sector for more than 25 years in an ad...
read more