Cyber Security Club Goes to Vegas

by Emmanuel Decaudin

(Photo: Gustavo Garcia)

This past August, Professor John Watkins took 21 members of the WCC Cyber Security club to Las Vegas, Nevada, to attend DEF CON, the world’s largest hacking conference. The conference features speakers from all over covering diverse topics such as car hacking, Wi-Fi snooping, cryptography, and more. This was the club’s second year attending. Most members paid out of their own pocket for the plane ticket and the hotel rooms on the trip, but the Student Government Association provided some additional funding

The conference began on August 5th and lasted until the 9th, providing attendees a series of talks and presentations, interactive workshops, and even an ongoing game of Capture the Flag (the club intends to have their own team for the next conference). On entrance, attendees received a name tag containing a vinyl record with secret instructions recorded on it, attached to a lanyard with a coded message inscribed that could only be solved by cooperating with fellow conference goers. “A lot of the students liked going to the evening events, they had a hacker jeopardy, a hacker karaoke, which is hilarious, they had hacker comedy, there was a lot of things related,” said Watkins about the conference.

The host of presenters included Cory Doctorow, a popular blogger and science fiction author, and Kevin Mahaffey and Marc Rogers, two hackers, who famously exposed a vulnerability in the Tesla Model S electric car’s computer. Professor Watkins and club member Tom Sparrott both agreed that this was their favorite presentation from the conference. Tom said it was his favorite because “[It showed me] how much of a serious issue [car hacking] is” while Mykhaylo Pivovarchuk, another student and member of the Cyber Security Club, preferred the talk How To Take Out Your Neighbor’s Kid’s Drone.

A somewhat embarrassing feature of the conference was the “Wall of Sheep”, a board displaying those who foolishly connected to the “free” conference Wi-Fi, a playful reminder of the dangers of Wi-Fi snooping. Fortunately, the club members had already been taught this in class and were able to save themselves from a most humiliating distinction.

At the end of the conference, Professor Watkins and the club took a break from the event and went to a “zombie apocalypse simulator,” where they decked in protective gear, and protected themselves with Airsoft guns from staff dressed as zombies.

The conference was both a learning and fun experience for the Cyber Security club members, and not only reiterated material they learned in Professor Watkins’s curriculum, but exposed them to new and exciting ideas in the technological world.

Originally published on September 23rd, 2016, at

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