[NOTE: Before this FAQ goes production 1.0 it will be split into two, one for general DEF CON questions, and another for the current years con]
What is DEF CON?
DEF CON is one of the oldest continuous running hacker conventions around, and also one of the largest.
How did DEF CON start?
Originally started in 1993, it was a meant to be a party for member of "Platinum Net", a Fido protocol based hacking network out of Canada. As the main U.S. hub I was helping the Platinum Net organizer (I forget his name) plan a closing party for all the member BBS systems and their users. He was going to shut down the network when his dad took a new job and had to move away. We talking about where we might hold it, when all of a sudden he left early and disappeared. I was just planning a party for a network that was shut down, except for my U.S. nodes. I decided what the hell, I'll invite the members of all the other networks my BBS (A Dark Tangent System) system was a part of including Cyber Crime International (CCI), Hit Net, Tired of Protection (ToP), and like 8 others I can't remember. Why not invite everyone on #hack? Good idea!
Where did the name come from?
The short answer is a combination of places. There as a SummerCon in the summer, a HoHoCon in the winter, a PumpCon during Halloween, etc. I didn't want any association with a time of year. If you are a Phreak, or just use your phone a lot you'll notes "DEF" is #3 on the phone. If you are into military lingo DEF CON is short for "Defense Condition." Now being a fan of the movie War Games I took note that the main character, David Lightman, lived in Seattle, as I do, and chose to nuke Las Vegas with W.O.P.R. when given the chance. Well I knew I was doing a con in Vegas, so it all just sort of worked out.
There are several resources that will give you an idea of what DEF CON is all about.
DEF CON Press: through the prism of the media
DEF CON Pics: visual evidence, thousands of pictures, some NSFW
DEF CON Groups: Local groups that meet
DEF CON Media archives: Speeches from DC 1 to the present, captured
Google: always a good research starting point
Just remember, DEF CON is what you make of it.
When and where is DEF CON?
DEF CON is generally in the last week of July or first week of August in Las Vegas. DEF CON 21 will be held August 1st through August 4th at the Rio Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. Many people arrive a day early, and many stay a day later.
Isn't there a DEF CON FAQ already?
Yes, an unofficial one. It's quite humorous, sometimes informative, and DEF CON takes no responsibility for its content. It can be found at http://defcon.stotan.org/faq/
What are the rules of DEF CON?
Physical violence is prohibited. We don't support illegal drug use. Minors should be accompanied by their parent(s) or guardian(s). Please refrain from doing anything that might jeopardize the conference or attendees such as lighting your hair on fire or throwing lit road flares in elevators. DEF CON Goons are there to answer your questions and keep everything moving. Hotel security is there to watch over their property. Each has a different mission, and it is wise to not anger the hotel people. Please be aware that if you engage in illegal activities there is a large contingency of feds that attend DEF CON. Talking about how you are going to bomb the RNC convention in front of an FBI agent is a Career Limiting Move!
Is DEF CON cancelled?
What is there to do at DEF CON?
DEF CON is a unique experience for each con-goer. If you google around you'll find dozens of write-ups that will give you an idea of what people have experienced at DEF CON. Trust write-ups more than media articles about the con. Some people play capture the flag 24x7, while many people never touch a computer at DEF CON. Some people see every speech they can, while others miss all speeches. Other activities include contests, movie marathons, scavenger hunts, sleep deprivation, lock picking, warez trading, drunken parties, spot the fed contest, the official music events. Because DEF CON is what the attendees make of it, there are more events than even we are aware of. Half the fun is learning what happened at DEF CON after the fact!
I'm not a hacker, should I go to DEF CON?
Many people have different definitions of what is a ‘hacker’. I would recommend looking at previous years speeches, and write-ups from past attendees - this should give you a good idea if DEF CON is for you. This hacker FAQ might give you some insight into the matter as well. If you do not have any technical interests, DEF CON is probably not for you. Sure there is a lot of socializing you can do, but technology and hacking is the core of the con.
Do criminals go to DEF CON?
Yes. They also go to high school, college, work in your workplace, and the government. There are also lawyers, law enforcement agents, civil libertarians, cryptographers, and hackers in attendance. Ssshhh. Don't tell anyone.
What are Goons?
They are the staff at DEF CON. They have many roles including security, speaker coordination, vendor room coordination, network operations, et cetera... Please try to be helpful to them if they make requests of you. If any goon tells you to move, please do so immediately as there may be safety issues they are attempting to address. Security Goons generally wear red shirt, the rest generally wear black.
How can I help out or become a Goon?
The staff at DEF CON has grown organically. All positions have some degree of trust associated with them, so typically new goons are ‘inducted’ by friends of existing goons. There are many random points when goons need help and may ask people for help, generally for helping move stuff or other tasks that don't require high amounts of trust or unsupervised work. Just because you help out doesn't make you a goon. If you really want to be a goon, talk with one and see how much work they actually do (Hint: you may want to enjoy being at DEF CON, not working full-time at it). Last year the network group got a new Goon when a networking engineer was needed, and he came to the rescue. The intent behind the goons is not to be elitist, but to have a network of trusted people who can help run the conference - please do not feel upset if you are not chosen to be a goon.
How can I help or participate?
DEF CON is not a spectator sport! Before the con, during, and after there are chances for you to get involved. Before the con you can read about the contests and maybe sign up for one like Capture the Flag. There are artwork contests for shirts and posters. You can practice your lock pick skills, or just get your laptop all locked down and ready to do battle. Organize your .mp3s. Check out the DEF CON Forums to see what other people are up to. If you want to create your own event, you can do that as well - you will not get official space or sanctions, but virtually every official event at DEF CON started out as an unofficial event.
After DEF CON you can help support the conference by posting links to your DEF CON photographs at defconpics.org, writing a review of your experiences and posting it online (Don't forget to mailing us (press [at] DEF CON dot org) a copy) or just sending us feedback so we can improve in the future. If you ran a contest write it up and we'll link to it. If you have the results of a contest or a new event we'd love to hear about it.
I would love to see XYZ event, how do I make this happen?
Virtually all events at DEF CON were conceived by the attendees. The DEF CON forums are a great place for recruiting help for an event you want to put on, and making sure your efforts aren't being duplicated. If it doesn't require resources from DEF CON (space, namely) you generally don't have to ask anyone’s permission. Most events are unofficial until they've been going on for a couple of years. Please let us know if you have an idea for an event, we may help facilitate or promote it. Email [suggestions at DEF CON dot org] to keep us in the loop.
How can I speak at DEF CON?
You can submit a response to our CFP (call for papers). All entries are read and evaluated by a selection committee. We would love to have your submission. The call for papers usually opens in March and closes mid-May.
I'm press, how do I sign up, why can't I get in for free (I'm just doing my job)?
Please email press[at]defcon[d0t]org if you wish press credentials. Lots of people come to DEF CON and are doing their job; security professionals, federal agents, and the press. It wouldn't be fair to DEF CON attendees if we exempted one group from paying. If you are a major network and plan on doing a two minute piece showing all the people with blue hair, you probably shouldn't bother applying for a press pass - you won't get one. If you are a security writer or from a real publication please submit, and someone will respond with an answer.
I want to sell stuff, how do I do this?
If you want a space in our vendor area, you need to apply. Because of limited space and our attempt to have a diversity of vendors, you may not be able to get a booth. It is wise to think of staffing issues - if you are one person do you want to spend your entire time behind a vendors booth?
What are the different price rates?
Everyone pays the same: The government, the media, the ‘well known hackers’, the unknown script kiddies. The only discount is for Goons and speakers, who get to work without paying for the privilege.
How much is admission DEF CON, and do you take credit cards?
DEF CON 21 costs $180 USD cash. Do we take credit cards? Are you JOKING? No, we only accept cash - no checks, no money orders, no travelers checks. We don't want to be a target of any State or Federal fishing expeditions.
Can I pre-register for DEF CON?
No. We used to do this a long time ago, but found that managing the registration list, and preventing one 'Dr. Evil' from impersonating another 'Dr. Ev1l' too much of a hassle. Seeing how we would only take case in the first place, and things becomes time consuming and easy to abuse. Cash at the door works every time.
DEF CON is too expensive, how can I afford it?
DEF CON is cheaper than many concerts, and certainly cheaper than many shows in Vegas. Many people have made an art and science out of coming to DEF CON very cheaply. Here are a couple of tips.
Travel: Buy airfare in advance, go Greyhound, Carpool, hitch-hike. (Note: this may be dangerous and/or illegal.)
Lodging: Share rooms - some people have up to 10 people they share a room with, find a hotel cheaper than the one that the conference is scheduled at, stay up for three days, etc. (note: this can be hazardous to your health.)
Food: Pack food for your trip, go off site to find food, eat in your hotel rooms, and look for cheap Vegas food at Casinos. (Look for deals and specials that are trying to get you in the door to gamble.) Booze: You don't need to drink. Brew your own and bring it. (It's been done.)
Entrance: $180 can be saved, mow some lawns. Try to go to another 3 day event for cheaper than this that offers so much. We have increased the fees slowly over the years, but also the amount and quality of events have increased.
Inevitably people will try to do some math and pretend that DT gets rich each DEF CON - they seem to lack the ability to subtract.
How many people typically attend DEF CON?
There have been roughly 8,000-10,000 attendees in the last few years of DEF CON. DEF CON 20 had a record showing with about 13,000.
Is there a network at DEF CON?
Why yes, DEF CON is FULLY network-enabled. Now that we've perfected the art of a stable hacker con network, we're ascending to a higher level - we're providing you a network that you feel SAFE in using! Since at DEF CON 18 we're WPA2 encrypted over-the-air, with a direct trunk out to the Internet. No peer-to-peer, no sniffing, just straight to the net (and internal servers). We'll provide login credentials at Registration. We know the 3G airwaves will be saturated so we're putting our own cred on the line to give you a net that even we would put our own mobile phones on.
If you're feeling frisky, we'll still have the traditional "open" network for you - bring your laptop (we'd recommend a clean OS, fully patched--you know the procedure) because we don't police what happens on that net. Share & enjoy!
What is the age limit?
People have brought children to DEF CON - it is not recommended to do this unless you are going to constantly supervise them. It is generally an ‘adult’ atmosphere (language, booze, et cetera). If you've never been to DEF CON, you may want to refrain from bringing your children (unless they are demanding that you bring them). While there are no age limits, we have consistently cooperated with parents and/or private investigators who are looking for children that ‘ran away from home’ to go to DEF CON. You will have to be 18 to reserve a room.
That said I think NullTone ties with the youngest person to attend DEF CON at 13 years old. Years later he is in college and set up the DEF CON Forums. See, DEF CON won't destroy you completely.
What is a DEF CON "Black Badge"?
The Black Badge is the highest award DEF CON gives to contest winners of certain events. CTF winners sometimes earn these, as well as Hacker Jeopardy winners. The contests that are awarded Black Badges vary from year to year, and a Black Badge allows free entrance to DEF CON for life, potentially a value of thousands of dollars.
How can I get a hold of DT? I tried to mail him and haven't seen a response yet.
DT doesn't dislike you, isn't trying to hurt your feelings, and bears you no ill will. The fact is he gets an unmanageable load of mail continually. Mailing him again may elicit a response. Try mailing FAQ (at) DEF CON.ORG if you have a general question that isn't answered here or in the forums.
What about having a DEF CON in XYZ city/country?
We’ve been in the city of sin since DC 1. We are not looking to franchise. It's always fun to see people organize conventions in their local areas, and if you do, we'll include you in our calendar, but not with the name "DEF CON".
Is it hot in Vegas?
Yes. Bring sunscreen (high SPF), do not fall asleep near the pool (lest you wake up to sunburn), and do not walk far in the sun unless you are experienced in dealing with extreme heat. The sun is dangerous in Las Vegas. Sleeping in lawn chairs is a sure way to wake up to severe burns in the morning when that bright yellow thing scorches your skin. Drink plenty of water and liquids - remember that alcohol will dehydrate you.
What should I bring?
It depends on what you're going to do at DEF CON. This is discussed in quite some depth on the unofficial DC FAQ, as well as a thread in the DC Forums. You may want to bring fancy (or outrageously silly) clothes for the official Music events, on Friday and Saturday nights, where everyone shows off nifty attire.
Will the Rio allow free parking?
Yes. You will be able to park for free regardless if you have a room at the Rio.
How much do rooms at the Rio cost, and how do I reserve a room?
The Rio has reservations online or over the phone (888) 746-6955 and reference group code SRDEF13. You can check prices, availablity and reserve a room at the DEF CON Group rate by going to http://www.totalrewards.com/hotel-reservations?propCode=RLV&groupCode=SRDEF13
How much is internet access in the rooms of the Rio?
$13.95 for 24 hours. Free (and more dangerous) internet access is available for free in the convention area.
Will the Rio broadcast the speeches on their cable system?
We reportedly have 5 channels at the Rio, more info as to the content will be available as planning ensues.
Will we have DEF CON branded poker chips?
You will have to attend DEF CON to find out.
Will conference attendees have entire floors of hotel rooms to themselves?
Probably not. The hotel is very cooperative in attempting to centralize the DEF CON attendees, for their convenience and ours, but there will be non-DEF CON attendees in hotel rooms next to us.
This FAQ didn't answer my questions, or was unclear, how can I get further information?
There is a forum discussion thread in which you can ask follow up questions.