Building Black Hat: Locking Down One Of The World's Biggest Hacking Conferences

For security pros, being asked to help secure Black Hat is like being asked to be on the Olympic basketball team.

Like most networks, infrastructure requirements for Black Hat are constantly evolving.  This year, show management wants to increase bandwidth and performance while maintaining security and reliability. So Black Hat 2016 is moving away from the switching technology provided by Mandalay Bay and implementing secure, high-performance switches, along with enterprise firewall security appliances and wireless access points. 

Providing security for an event like Black Hat, especially when it is followed directly by DefCon, is a significant challenge. Our security team, along with the folks from UBM and the amazing Black Hat volunteers, begin reviewing the show’s architecture and scoping out the security strategy several months before the event. From a security perspective, the network design is very similar to a university with open networks and datacenter-like applications.

Black Hat USA returns to the fabulous Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nevada July 30 through Aug. 4, 2016. Click for information on the conference schedule and to register.

Onsite setup begins several days before the show events start. We begin with establishing Internet connectivity and core infrastructure deep in the lower levels of the Mandalay Bay. Then we quickly make our way upstairs and work with the show infrastructure team to establish a Security Operations Center (SOC) that showcases all of the security technology in use by the event. As we work closer to the official show start, secure wireless is installed along with L2 switching across the venue to provide security and connectivity for all of the event users.

We then need to secure the proprietary applications and data used by the show to register attendees, process financial transactions, and manage sensitive data and personal information. Using the segmentation functionality built into the firewalls is a critical part of the security design.

The next objective is to create a segmented environment in which the world’s elite programmers and hackers can play, while still protecting the network, attendees, vendors, and presenters. The challenge is in creating a robust and open environment, while still securing the Black Hat event as a whole.

This is easier said than done, as the security team needs to actively monitor the network and make careful decisions about the kinds of traffic and malware being seen. Frequently, traffic is allowed to pass through and propagate that would send an enterprise security manager running through the halls but keeps everyone on our team on their toes.

In addition to all of the device configuration, physical security is absolutely essential. Efforts need to be made to prevent attackers from gaining physical access to the networking devices and implementing precautions that will prevent them from gaining further systems access if they do.

Finally, we provide constant active monitoring and penetration testing both before and during the show, and gather forensic data so we can update and improve show security both in real time and in anticipation of future events. (Stay tuned for an article from our pen testing team about what we learned from last year, and the kind of testing and active monitoring we are planning for this year’s event).

Being asked to help secure Black Hat is a bit like being asked to be on the Olympic basketball team. It’s not only gratifying to be invited, but it is also exciting to be able to work and play with some of the best folks in the industry. This year is no exception.

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Aamir Lakhani is a cyber security researcher and practitioner with Fortinet and FortiGuard Labs, with over 10 years of experience in the security industry. He is responsible for providing IT security solutions to major commercial and federal enterprise organizations. Lakhani … View Full Bio

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