Defcon 15 Be Prepared (beprepared_title.gif)

We're reserving this section of the site to help you make the most of your DEFCON adventure, and we've named the section after that immortal motto of Boy Scouts everywhere... "Be Prepared." What we'll try to present with this section is a light primer of various pieces of knowledge, or gear, or advice that will help you to maximize your experience. We will update these often in the months leading up to the Con so watch this space - and if you have suggestions that would improve things for fellow congoers, please share them with with us and we'll post the best ones on this page.

Take a Break

Three days can be a long time in Las Vegas. On the strip, there are no windows, there are no clocks and there is no obvious break between the day and the night. The casinos are fun, but it can be a good idea to take a small break, leave the immediate environs and get your bearings back. Fortunately, Vegas makes that easy to do.

A quick perusal of vegas.com will give you an idea of your outside entertainment options, but here are a few interesting nuggets you might not have considered.

  • For those with a taste for the ghoulish, the Greek Isles Casino hosts a Vegas Ghost Tour that they describe this way:
    "Haunted Vegas Tour, complete with a "mortician" tour guide accompanied by eerie music in the background, takes you to places you may have seen before but never quite like this. Driving through the streets of Las Vegas, from hotels on the Strip to homes off the Strip, the tour tells tales of murders, suicides and the spirits that return to haunt the places they once walked."
  • If you're one of those people who can't let go of The Sopranos, the Empire Ballroom is hosting an interactive Evening with the Sopranos that recasts the Capo of mob shows and adds parts for the whole audience. It's as close as you're likely to get to being on the show - contact the Empire Ballroom if you're ready to get your button.

  • Vegas is full of magic shows, from the craptastic to the sublime - but this year illusionist Hans Klok (is he kidding with that name?) has added something no one has ever tried before - Pamela Anderson. I'm not sure that makes the magic any better, but you're not likely to get a lot more chances to see CJ from Baywatch get sawed in half.

  • If you're interested in getting outside into the actual fresh air, there's a six hour tour of the Valley of Fire State park for a breathtaking view of rare petroglyphs, amazing rock formations and dunes that have been here for 150 million years. The tour also includes Lake Mead, the largest manmade lake in the country.

Hotel concierge staff can be enormously helpful setting you up with events like this, so take advantage. Imagine the surprise when you return from Vegas with a tan this time!


Sage Advice

The following tips come from Dr. Neal Krawetz, author of "Introduction to Network Security" (Charles River Media, 2006) and "Hacking Ubuntu" (Wiley, 2007).

Clothing:
This may sound odd, but bring extra socks. It's hot, and if you DO decided to go against the "don't go outside" advice, you'll be guaranteed to sweat through your socks. I know one person who only brought sandals and he ended up slipping in his own sweat. If you're bringing open-toed shoes, make sure they are not slippery when... wet.

Unless you're Dead Addict, jackets and trench coats are not needed. 100 degrees at midnight is not uncommon.

Airport:
While common tips like "don't check valuables" apply to all airports, the Las Vegas airport is much more notorious for having baggage handlers go through your bags. (They're looking for gamblers who put their money, camera, and jewelry in their checked bags.) Stuffing valuables in the zipper lining is well-known and won't stop them.

My suggestions for checked baggage:

- Use a paperclip to tie any zippers together, or use duct tape over the zipper. This sounds odd, but X-Ray people will happily remove the tape or paperclip if they need to get inside, while thieving baggage handlers won't bother.
- Stuff small valuables INSIDE the metal bars of the pull-out handle. X-Ray won't see it, and baggage handlers don't look there.
- Make your bag look old. New luggage is more likely to have valuables. Old luggage is less likely. Worn duct tape is also useful.
- All bags look alike. I mark mine with duct tape. (See a theme yet?)
- Take a suitcase that is ONE SIZE too big. I usually end up buying too many books, t-shirts, and other crap in the vendor area. A bigger suitcase makes it easier to get the stuff home.

The first scam you will meet is in the airport taxi. "How do you want to go to your hotel, strip or highway?" This is a scam. If you leave it up to them, you will end up taking the long route and paying much more. If you say "fastest" then they can interpret that as distance or time, and will take you on the long route. Know your answer before you get in the taxi. Call your hotel and ask them. (For south-strip areas like MGM, New York, Excalibur, choose strip. The south-strip is next to the airport. For north-strip areas, like the Hilton, Riviera, and Circus-Circus, choose highway. If you're in the middle of the strip, like Caesars or Treasure Island, take the strip.) You might want to ask if "Koval" is faster (it's parallel to the strip and much faster if you are going to a middle-strip hotel).

The second scam are the pickpockets. If you see any of the outside events, like the waters at Bellagio or the erupting volcano or the lame pirate thing at Treasure Island, watch out for pickpockets. They like cell phones, bluetooth anything, and even nice sunglasses -- they don't stop at wallets.

For the casinos:
You get better service if you dress nice. Bring a change of clothing if you plan to go out of the Defcon arena. (If you dress nice in the Defcon area, expect people to call you a fed.)

Get an EIN (employment identification number). Many casinos have comp-cards for gamblers, but enrolling requires a SSN. Rather than giving out your SSN, use your EIN. (Getting an EIN simply takes a phone call to the IRS.)

For Defcon:
Bringing your laptop or PDA is cool. But if you're going to take a nap at Defcon, then leave your stuff in your hotel room! Sleeping with your laptop may result in someone stealing your laptop. Same goes for backpacks any anything else not physically strapped to you.

-Neal

Weather

Las Vegas in August is hot - Africa hot. Locals will tell you it's a dry heat, and they are correct. What they will fail to tell you is that it's an insanely HOT dry heat. The days can reach 115 degrees and the nights are not a lot better. Unless you are genetically part lizard, 115 degrees wet or dry is borderline unbearable. It's best to be ready for it - a prepared conventioneer can have a mostly tolerable time with even the most hellish Vegas weather.

The first option is what the hoteliers of LV hope you'll elect: never leave the casino. The owners of the gaming palaces have spared no expense in climate-controlling their mile-wide monstrosities, and the insides are an expensive but generally quite comfortable place to hide from the desert sun. There are also the perks of cheap to free liquor and bonus oxygen.

If you must go outside, take a cab. These vehicles are also refrigerated for your comfort. First-time travelers to Sin City might be tempted to save some coin by walking to the next casino, but beware. It looks so close, they will say. I can see it right there, they will say. The Stratosphere is so close to us i can practically touch it, they will say.

They could not be more wrong. Vegas blocks are enormous and all visual distances are unreliable. Some trick of the Mojave makes objects light years away appear to be on the next block. Lest you be caught in the trackless wastes between casinos and succumb to heatstroke and delirium, drop the ten bucks on a cab. The life you save may be your own, etc.

Also, hydrate. You will not feel like you are sweating, but this is only because of how fast your rivers of sweat are being zorched into the atmosphere. Your precious bodily fluids are being stolen so fast you cannot feel it. Be aware that yard-long Margaritas, while street-legal in Vegas, will not satisfactorily hydrate you.

I would tell you not to wear heat-misering black T-shirts, but I know the limitations of my advice. If you plan ahead, keep cab fare handy and resist the temptation to hike too much of the strip you'll have a dandy time even in the Vegas inferno. Fail to heed this warning and some art student will be using your bleached skull as a pencil holder. The choice is yours - choose wisely.


Lock Picking for Sport and Amusement

DEFCON is a great place to learn all sorts of new skills - the skill of lockpicking is no exception. This year's Con will again have a "Lockpicking Village" - a fantastic event with all kinds of presentations, practice locks, sample tools and general education. We want everyone who's interested to check it out, but we want you to be careful and safe as well.

Be sure to consult your state and local laws about possession of locksmith's tools. Staying in compliance with the applicable laws is, of course, your responsibility. When traveling, it's not a good idea to put tools of this nature in your carryon. While they're unlikely to cause any problems in checked baggage, those pointy little devils are very likely to be a problem in the security line.

It probably ought to go without saying, but if you're making an international trip to DefCon, the scrutiny is much higher and you owe it to yourself to be thoroughly familiar with the rules and err on the side of caution. You don't need that kind of hassle. There's plenty of lockpicking knowledge and fun to be had even without your k-rad tools, so don't put yourself in a position to miss your flight.

It's also an option to mail them to yourself in care of your hotel. Some hotels charge for this service, so be aware of the policies wherever you're staying.

If the world of locksport is brand new to you and you're looking to get a little knowledge before the Con, you can check out Marc Weber Tobias' contributions to techblog Engadget (called The Lockdown.) More info is also available from Locksport International (lsi.com) or The Open Organization of Lockpickers ( toool.us or toool.nl for Dutch speakers)


Hot Topic: Tor

Tor (The Onion Router) is the subject of a few talks this year, and if the government’s recent spate of attacks on online privacy have you looking for some online anonymity, it might behoove you to study up.

In the words of the fine folks at the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

"Tor is a network of virtual tunnels that allows people and groups to improve their privacy and security on the Internet. It also enables software developers to create new communication tools with built-in privacy features. Tor provides the foundation for a range of applications that allow organizations and individuals to share information over public networks without compromising their privacy.".

Starter info can be found on wikipedia (look up Tor anonymity network) and on the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s pages at http://tor.eff.org/overview.html.en.

Tor development is moving ahead quickly – and our Tor talks are the best place to get your questions answered by the experts.


Today's Tip: Network Safety

There isn't any. Not at the Con, not at the Riviera, and maybe nowhere in that part of Nevada.

Experienced con-goers don't need this science dropped on them, but if you're new to the situation, come prepared for a highly-networked environment with an epic amount of mischievous traffic. Use at your (not inconsiderable) risk.

From the DEFCON FAQ:

"It would be fair to describe the network as "hostile". It has been described as ‘the worlds most hostile network,’ but such descriptions are just attempts at flattery. It is recommended that if you want to connect to the DEFCON network pretend that you are sharing out your entire hard drive to 5000 hackers. You may want to bring a ‘clean’ computer that you don't mind being infected/hacked/etc. It is considered very poor form to attempt to DoS the network; while the DEFCON staff may not do anything about such attempts it is reasonable to assume that ‘peer justice’ may be meted out. If you're unhappy about the possible risks associated with connecting to DEFCON networks there are a couple of options: refrain from computer use for a few days or connect using another network elsewhere in Vegas (another hotel or something)".

Sage advice, that. For a little more information about the DEFCON network and its valiant stewards, check out defconnetworking.org

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