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Soaking It All Up at the Black Hat Conference

Armed with new information, our manager comes home to face a possible outbreak of malicious code.

By Mathias Thurman
August 28, 2006 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld -

Security professionals who can attend just one conference a year should make it Black Hat in Las Vegas. It attracts extremely talented information security professionals, and the informative, relevant and timely classes and briefings are mostly conducted by industry experts.

An extra benefit is that the annual DefCon computer hacker conference is always held right afterward. If you don't get enough security training at Black Hat, stick around, and DefCon will be sure to fill your brain to the brim.

Black Hat is fun. When I go, as I did earlier this month, I usually bump into folks I know, whether I worked with them in the past or have just been exposed to them in some fashion. It's always great to share war stories and reminisce about how things were done in the old days.

But you can find yourself having informative discussions with complete strangers. At this year's Black Hat, I spent most of my time attending the Microsoft Vista sessions, since I'm interested in learning about the security features of Microsoft's new operating system. The discussion on Microsoft's kernel-hardening was interesting, but at one point, I got lost in the technologyspeak, not being a kernel-level programmer by trade.

So when my coffee cup went empty, I left the room and ended up in a very interesting hallway conversation with a couple of information security professionals who were talking about Asterisk. That's an open-source telephone private branch exchange system that can be easily installed on Linux.

The PBX talk led to another interesting discovery for me. One of the guys was talking about CallerID on a PBX and mentioned that if you configure a phone's CallerID to display the name of the owner of a cell phone number and then call that cell phone from the phone with CallerID, you will probably be given access to the cell phone's voice mail. Of course, this won't happen if the cell phone's voice mail has a password, but how many people configure passwords for their cell phones? Until then, I hadn't (shame on me). Needless to say, the next time I sent out a standard "Don't open attachments from strangers" message to our employees, I included that perhaps trivial piece of information.

Back to the briefings. I found a session on incident response presented by the CEO of Mandiant to be a validation of my own incident-response procedures. Alexandria, Va.-based Mandiant is a professional services company that has a lot of experience with incident response and forensics, and I gained some knowledge about a few tools in its First Response program. Ironically, it was incident response that had my attention the very day I returned to work from Black Hat.

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