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2018-08-05 - 7 min read.

Preparing for DEF CON

by James Hale

As so many in the infosec space are getting ready to depart for summer camp in Las Vegas, I’m starting to gear up for my first DEF CON experience.

There are many conflicting schools of thought on what sort of tech you should bring with you, from the uber-paranoid “bring nothing at all” to the lackadaisical thinking of treating it like any other event and bring what you want.

This is my first DEF CON, so I’m not really sure what exactly to expect and what advice is rooted in reality and what is merely FUD. To that end, I’m trying to strike a decent balance between the two.

What I’m not bringing

Figuring out what to bring is a lot easier when you can cross stuff off the list right away.

Packing list

Some people say that you should just leave the laptop at home altogether and just enjoy the con. While I can appreciate this way of thinking, I think it’s a bit too extreme on the tin-foil hat side of things. I want to be able to participate in the different Villages and I actually take much better notes when I type, rather than write them out. Plus, between downtime at the con, in my room, in the airport, etc, there will undoubtedly been periods where I’ll just want to mess around on the internet or watch a movie or something and that’s just better done on a full machine, rather than my phone.

I’m still paranoid enough to declare my daily driver Macbook Pro as out for this trip. Like my work machine, it just has too valuable information on it to risk exposure to the masses at DEF CON.

So, I need a “burner” of sorts. Not really a burner, mind you, in that I’m not going to toss the thing into the Potomac on my cab ride home from the airport, but rather a machine that can keep stuff separate from my personal life.

I was looking at buying a cheap-ish Thinkpad on eBay, but I ran out of time to procure one. I then remembered that I had a 2010-era Macbook Pro that has been sitting in my closet. For about $60, I was able to rehab it with a new battery and SSD. Throw those bad boys in there with a patched up Ubuntu and Kali on a USB stick and I’m ready to go! Again, this will be more an exercise in OpSec, than anything else. I won’t be signing into my e-mail or bank accounts on this machine and other classic dumb stuff to land me on the Wall of Sheep. When I get back, I’ll probably put it on a quarantined LAN, just to see if it tries to beacon out anywhere before I wipe it and stick it back in the closet, although I think that I’ll be sorely disappointed.

For the rest of my packing….

VPN Set-up

Whenever I travel, I always have a VPN that I can use if I need to get around some BS network management practices at hotels or just generally to protect my traffic from open Wifi networks. DEF CON is absolutely no exception to that.

I typically have a OpenVPN server running in AWS 24x7, just so it’s there if I need it. For DC, I’m taking the uber paranoid route here and standing up a completely new OpenVPN instance that is purpose built for this trip. The beauty of AWS and other IaaS providers is that I just keep the instance for as long as a suits me and then I just torch it when I’m done.

This VPN will exist for the duration of DEF CON, at which point, I’ll simply terminate it. Any potential compromise of the infrastructure is no longer an issue. Again, if I suspect something, I might keep it around for a bit to do some forensics.

I do most of my AWS infra work in Terraform. Since I already had my normal VPC and VPN defined there, it was trivial to duplicate those definitions for an additional DEF CON-specific VPC and VPN instance.

These won’t work right out of the box. As you’ll need some files hosted in a S3 bucket for OpenVPN to use. Namely, the server.conf and a SSL certificate and private key. Also, these TF gists assume that you have a DNS zone hosted in Route53, so AWS can just add an entry for your VPN server.

Once DEF CON is over, I’ll simply remove these definition files and tell Terraform to go wild. Once it sees that the definitions are no longer there, it will mark the “orphaned” resources for destruction and lay waste to them.

That’s pretty much the amount of prep I’m going to do. I don’t want to get too bogged down in the details here. I’m not sure what I might encounter at DEF CON, but as long as I learn some things and meet new people, I’m willing to call that a win.

2018 Con Status:

tags: conference - defcon