Blackhat USA 2013 Summary – Part 1 of 3 contributor Chris Carpenter take on the BlackHat USA 2013:

I just returned from attending Blackhat USA 2013 in Las Vegas and it was quite the experience. Overall, I felt this year’s conference was a lot slicker and well polished if that’s possible. The presentations seemed to cover a broader swath of the security community and didn’t solely focus on the latest exploits. I personally spend more time managing security staff and less on the keyboard hacking. So the wider variety of presentations was a welcome change for me.

Before I go too deeply into the presentations and overall conference I have to mention the opening keynote. I was very excited to hear the director of NSA, General Alexander speak. I’m not sure what I was expecting but it was not the presentation that he gave. The Blackhat keynotes I have attended in the past are usually informative, entertaining and leave you with a sense of pride in the security community. This keynote however, was tense from the moment the general took to the podium. Not wasting any time he got straight to the point that he was there to set the record straight on the NSA monitoring programs. He felt the press had not presented all the facts and he wanted to rectify that. He did do just that in a crisp and military manner. The keynote was far less welcome to Blackhat and way more military brief.

The audience was riveted. True to his, word the general stepped through a series of detailed slides that highlighted the differences between two main NSA programs in question. I won’t go into the gory details because you can see the entire presentation online. Suffice it to say it was educational. The thing that stood out the most to me was that the general was making a VERY concerted effort to convince the audience that everything was legitimate. To that end I think he reached most of the audience but there was definitely a vocal minority that disagreed.

General Alexander was heckled around the middle of his presentation with cries of “Freedom!” and “bull*hit!” He was also asked some very direct questions such as why Al Qaeda wants to attack us. He kept his cool and stayed mostly on message. I give him a lot of credit for how he handled it. I know immediately after the keynote a lot of the press zoomed in on the heckling. The one point that I feel was not well covered was the overall reaction when the General suggested one of the hecklers should read the constitution his self. There was overwhelming applause. I think there was definitely some uneasiness and distrust in the room but overall I think General Alexander got his message across. If nothing else he got everyone’s attention and got the conference started with a bang. I only hope that this does not represent an end to high level government officials attending the conference. I feel that the relationship between the government and hacker community is crucial to an improved security posture for this country.

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