Exploring the Cybersecurity Landscape: A Closer Look at BSides Albuquerque

BSides Albuquerque brings together hackers, researchers, and cybersecurity experts for cutting-edge presentations and hands-on workshops. Get an inside look at this tight-knit infosec community.

BSides Albuquerque is a grassroots cybersecurity conference that takes place annually in Albuquerque, New Mexico. With its intimate, community-driven vibe, BSides Albuquerque offers a unique experience compared to massive corporate-sponsored conferences like RSA and Black Hat. For cybersecurity professionals looking to connect with brilliant minds, discover cutting-edge research, and collaborate with peers, BSides Albuquerque is an essential event on the infosec conference circuit.

BSides Albuquerque consists of two days of presentations, workshops, competitions, entertainment and networking opportunities. The conference is organized and run by a team of dedicated volunteers from the information security community in New Mexico. It's a labor of love that brings together hundreds of participants each year who are passionate about cybersecurity.  

The inaugural BSides Albuquerque kicked off in 2012 with around 200 attendees packed into a small venue. It quickly outgrew that initial space and now takes place at the Hotel Albuquerque with ample room for its continued growth. In 2022, BSides Albuquerque welcomed over 650 information security experts ranging from students to seasoned professionals. Sponsors from cybersecurity vendors help fund the event so that it can remain affordable and accessible.

So what exactly does BSides Albuquerque offer that makes it such an unmissable event? Let's take a deep dive into the engaging talks, hands-on activities, networking opportunities and more that embody the true spirit of this thriving hacker conference.

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Insights into the BSides Environment

The environment at BSides Albuquerque stands in stark contrast to the sprawling, corporate-centric conferences that dominate the infosec landscape. Rather than a sea of suits focused on sales pitches, you'll find an intimate community of passionate cybersecurity practitioners.

Interactive Format 

With just one track of speakers, BSides Albuquerque facilitates deep engagement between all participants. The smaller scale creates an interactive environment completely different than cavernous expo halls and crowded tracks at mega-conferences.

At BSides Albuquerque, conversations flow easily between attendees, speakers, and sponsors on the conference floor. Presenters make themselves available after their talks for extended Q&A while participants eagerly share feedback and insights. 

Nobody is anonymous at BSides. Returning attendees catch up with old friends while new participants are welcomed into the community. You'll frequently overhear joking banter and passionate discussions flowing between hackers huddled around laptops. The overall vibe is laid-back, friendly, and accessible.

Cutting-Edge Topics

Presentations at BSides Albuquerque focus on bleeding-edge research and emerging techniques for hacking networks, systems, devices and more. Speakers distill complex security concepts into practical takeaways attendees can implement immediately after the conference.

Some of the highly technical topics covered in previous years include:

- Reverse engineering advanced malware strains like Flame, Stuxnet, and Sofacy

- Exploiting zero-day vulnerabilities in embedded systems 

- Uncovering hardware backdoors and microarchitectural attacks

- Analyzing cache side-channel attacks like Meltdown and Spectre

- Defeating cryptographic implementations using timing and power analysis

- Developing custom WiFi sniffing tools and antennae 

- Detailed teardowns of insecure IoT devices

These are just a sampling of the cutting-edge subjects that demonstrate the depth of knowledge shared at BSides. Attendees rave about the actionable insights they acquire to improve their offensive and defensive capabilities.

Hands-On Workshops  

In addition to presentations, BSides Albuquerque facilitates immersive hands-on learning experiences:

- Lock picking village: Hone physical security skills at this popular hands-on area where you can practice defeating various lock-picking challenges under the guidance of experienced mentors.

- Capture the Flag (CTF): Sharpen your hacking abilities in intense CTF competitions featuring custom challenges spanning forensics, cryptography, web apps, binary reverse engineering, and more.

- Soldering workshops: Create and code your own hacker badge or simple IoT device in guided soldering sessions. 

- Social engineering playground: Try your persuasion skills against other participants in this interactive social engineering game hosted by industry experts.

- Hardware hacking: Tinker with electronics components like Raspberry Pis and Arduinos while manipulating their inputs and outputs to understand hardware vulnerabilities. 

These workshops reinforce core offensive and defensive skills through hands-on learning that sticks with you long after the conference.

Passionate Participants

BSides Albuquerque attracts devoted information security professionals across various career levels looking to engage with peers who share their depth of knowledge and enthusiasm for the field. Regular attendees include:

- Seasoned cybersecurity veterans: Senior security engineers, pen testers, CISOs and other experienced professionals come to exchange insights on emerging industry challenges.

- Talented researchers: Academics and independent hackers showcase in-progress research and projects at BSides before presenting at prestigious conferences like DEF CON.

- Students and newcomers: Aspiring cybersecurity analysts gain knowledge and connections that will give them a leg up in the industry.

- Tool builders: Developers behind popular open source security tools debut new features and gather feedback from users.

- Law enforcement: FBI cybercrime units and other government agencies come to forge connections with hackers, dispel misconceptions, and gain insights into the latest techniques.

Having all of these passionate, highly-versed infosec devotees interacting in one place creates an electric atmosphere marked by lively debate, collaboration, and mutual respect.

 Notable Presentations and Speakers

The speaker lineup at BSides Albuquerque represents the diversity of perspectives and areas of expertise within the infosec community. From keynote addresses by industry trailblazers to deeply technical talks by student researchers, the presentations consistently garner rave reviews.

 Keynotes from Industry Leaders

Previous keynote speakers have included infosec luminaries like Chris Nickerson (LARES), Jayson E. Street (SANS Institute), and Deviant Ollam (The CORE Group). Their keynotes distill decades of experience into insightful themes like the psychology of hackers, evolving threat landscapes, and skills needed for the next generation.

These influential leaders set the tone for the conference by reminding participants why events like BSides that facilitate open collaboration and knowledge sharing are so vital for the community. Keynotes also provide historical context on how far the industry has advanced while inspiring attendees to carry the ethos forward.

Technical Sessions 

The meat of the BSides Albuquerque program lies in the highly technical presentations where speakers unveil original research discoveries, forensic analysis of malware, and exposure of zero day exploits.

For example, at BSides 2017, security researcher Alfredo Ortega presented his analysis of vulnerabilities in AMD's Secure Processor architecture that could allow malicious code execution. His in-depth teardown highlighted weaknesses in cryptographic implementations that attackers could leverage to bypass security mechanisms.

Other technically complex presentations have revealed exploits like:

- BlueBorne: Undetectable flaws in Bluetooth implementations affecting billions of devices.

- MouseJack: Wireless mouse dongles vulnerable to hijacking via radio frequency attacks.

- Rowhammer: Failures in DRAM allowing data compromise via electrical pulses.

These talks exemplify how BSides provides an early peek at emerging threats before wider public disclosure. Attendees walk away with an expansive new checklist of issues to guard against.

Variety of Perspectives

BSides Albuquerque welcomes speakers from diverse backgrounds and areas of expertise:

- Independent researchers: Such as university professors and hackers unaffiliated with corporations who are free to share discoveries corporate researchers often cannot.  

- Students: Up-and-coming student presenters showcase creative projects while gaining valuable public speaking experience to boost their careers.

- Government experts: Cybercrime units discuss challenges defending government systems and opportunities for collaboration with hackers ("see something, say something").

- Industry CISOs: Chief Information Security Officers offer perspectives on real-world security postures and risk management tradeoffs at major corporations. 

This multiplicity of voices ensures well-rounded coverage of timely cybersecurity topics from both offensive and defensive viewpoints.

 Networking and Community Building 

The connections made at BSides Albuquerque often catalyze exciting new collaborations long after the conference concludes. Between sessions, participants have ample time to network and build relationships face-to-face with their peers.

 Connecting with Like-Minded Experts

In formal networking events and informal social settings, attendees forge bonds with others passionate about information security:

- Potential mentors: Junior analysts can garner career advice from senior professionals. Seasoned pros give back by mentoring newcomers.

- Future collaborators: Researchers find teammates to co-author conference papers, develop tools, and uncover vulnerabilities through coordinated disclosure.

- Vendor relationships: Organizations scout emerging startups showcasing promising technologies. Vendors get feedback from end users.

- Shared passions: Connect over mutual non-work interests like lockpicking, hardware hacking, and radio frequencies outside of day jobs. 

These organic interactions birth ongoing mutually beneficial relationships that amplify each participant's capabilities.

 Fostering the Next Generation

BSides Albuquerque cultivates the next generation of security researchers by empowering students to demonstrate their work:

- Platform to present: Students give talks and showcase projects to gain visibility and hone presentation abilities.

- Peer learning: Connect with other students tackling similar research projects to exchange ideas.

- Mentorship: Experts take promising students under their wings to nurture talent and pass down knowledge.

- Hands-on practice: Activities like CTFs and workshops allow students to experiment freely.

- Internship and job connections: Talented students get recruited by organizations seeking emerging infosec professionals.

These student-focused initiatives ensure a constant influx of new minds tackling novel problems in inventive ways. 

 Vendors and Toolmakers

The intimate BSides setting allows deep engagement between toolmakers and end users that's impossible at major conferences:

- Early access: Creators preview alpha versions of open source tools for user feedback to improve capabilities.

- Wish lists: Users suggest desired features and integrations for tool makers to implement.

- Investment: Organizations sponsor and hire standout tool projects impressed by their innovation.

This tight collaboration between builders and users yields more robust open source projects that best meet the community's needs.

 Law Enforcement Outreach

BSides Albuquerque facilitates crucial conversations between hackers and government agencies:

- Dispelling misconceptions: Hackers highlight how many support ethical research and responsible disclosure rather than malicious crime. 

- Perspective sharing: Agencies explain challenges defending critical systems and need allies reporting flaws and intelligence.

- Crowdsourcing: Agencies tap hacker insights on emerging attack trends and security holes to bolster threat awareness.

- Job connections: Cybersecurity agencies recruit talented hackers into government service to put skills to positive use.

These interactions help align the hacker and law enforcement communities around shared goals of protecting critical systems and assets.

 The Conference Experience

Beyond the scheduled programming, BSides Albuquerque immerses attendees in an intoxicating atmosphere brimming with hacker ethos. The funky, informal vibe facilitates memorable serendipitous interactions.

 Immersive Atmosphere 

From the moment you walk into the venue, you are surrounded by hacker culture manifested through:

- Artwork: Graffiti, murals, and sculptures from local artists depict cybersecurity themes with creative flair. Trippy visuals surround you.

- Music: Playlists from infosec-focused musicians like bitbash, Ne0nd0g, and Professor Plum provide the soundtrack.  

- Ambience: The darkened conference area is illuminated by greens and blues evoking the Matrix, Tron, and hacker stereotypes.

- Screens: Feeds cycle through coding snippets, scenes of typing on terminals, scrolling matrix digits, and anonymous masks.

- Costumes: Expect to see attendees clad in hoodies, giveaway t-shirts, and flamboyant outfits reflecting their personalities.

The stimulating ambience invigorates attendees while reminding them of their shared identity rooted in cybersecurity and the hacking world.

 Food, Fun and Entertainment

BSides Albuquerque knows how to keep energy levels high and facilitate socializing through:

- Catering: Food carts provide tasty snacks to keep attendees fueled for learning. Organizers ensure quality options for all dietary preferences. 

- Parties: Evening events at local establishments give participants a chance to unwind, swap stories, and get to know each other better in a casual setting.

- Music: Local artists perform sets allowing attendees to rock out together and experience creative talents within the community. 

- Game zones: Arcades and console stations provide the perfect icebreaker for bonding over friendly competition in multiplayer games and hacker-themed titles.

These activities nurture the personal relationships that underlie strong professional collaborations long after BSides concludes.

 Badge Hacking

At BSides, you'll see the incredible creativity of the hacker community expressed through custom-modified conference badges. Attendees compete to transform the humble conference badge into amazing hacks.

- Artistic flair: Badges incorporate LED matrices, e-ink displays, and mini-screens to animate memes, graphics, and designs.

- Functionality: Integration of components like buttons, sensors, and radios enable badges to interact with wearers and environment.

- Connected badges: Proximity detection, messaging, and group effects emerge when badges link together wirelessly. 

- Wearable hacks: Badges double as mini hacking tools with USB drives, lockpick sets, pentest payloads and more integrated.

Contests reward the most inventive badge hacks that push the limits of imagination and utility.

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 The Impact of BSides Albuquerque

The influence of BSides Albuquerque extends far beyond its two days each year by shaping cybersecurity discourse, sparking new collaborations, and empowering individuals to protect critical assets. 

 Regional Spotlight on the Cybersecurity Hub

By bringing hundreds of infosec devotees to Albuquerque annually, BSides provides a stage to highlight the city’s emergence as a cybersecurity hotspot. BSides spotlights the many assets cultivating Albuquerque’s reputation, including:

- Academic research: The University of New Mexico and CNM offer respected cybersecurity programs conducting studies presented at BSides. 

- Government facilities: Nearby institutions like Sandia National Laboratories and the Air Force Research Lab conduct cutting-edge security research. 

- Growing industry presence: Major cybersecurity vendors are opening offices in Albuquerque and surrounding areas to tap local talent.

- Startup incubation: Initiatives help launch promising cybersecurity startups, with BSides offering exposure to investors. 

- Talent pool: BSides connects students to internships and jobs at local organizations hungry for skilled practitioners.

This rising concentration of cybersecurity activity fosters knowledge sharing and ideation between brilliant minds who call Albuquerque home. BSides shines a spotlight encouraging more growth.

 Sparking Collaborations 

The dialogue enabled by BSides Albuquerque sets the stage for ongoing collaborative projects between participants across organizational and geographic boundaries. Just some examples include:

- Researchers from different universities planning coordinated disclosure of vulnerabilities identified independently.  

- A VC sponsoring a tool developer they met to incubate and monetize an open source project.

- Government agencies contracting offensive security firms to simulate attacks on systems based on insights from presentations.

- Corporations hiring talented student speakers to inject fresh thinking into vulnerability research programs. 

- Peer mentoring pairs forming between veterans and newcomers passionate about the same specialty area.

The personal connections made at BSides Albuquerque inspire great minds to work together long after the conference concludes.

 Knowledge Sharing with Real-World Impact

The actionable techniques presented at BSides equip infosec professionals to enact change within their organizations. Armed with intelligence on the latest attack vectors and defensive tools, they can:

- Patch overlooked holes: Apply fixes and harden systems against published exploits before attackers utilize them.

- Upgrade architectures: Re-engineer legacy infrastructure per modern best practices revealed at BSides. 

- Refine strategies: Incorporate threat intelligence and adopt techniques discussed at BSides into incident response plans.

- Enhance skills: Employ exercises from workshops to expand team capabilities critical for security and resilience. 

- Guide leadership: Demonstrate the importance of enabling proven security measures highlighted at BSides. 

The institutional knowledge gains made by participants translate into direct risk reduction for the organizations and clients they aim to protect.

 Wrapping Up

After reviewing the presentations, workshops, connections and lasting impact facilitated by BSides Albuquerque each year, it’s clear this vibrant grassroots gathering is an essential convening for anyone passionate about cybersecurity. This conference represents the very best of the community—brilliant minds coming together in an open, collaborative spirit to tackle emerging threats. 

BSides Albuquerque embodies the ethos of innovation through information sharing that enabled the earliest hackers and phreakers to explore new frontiers. This spirit of voluntary cooperation and curiosity continues to drive progress across the cybersecurity landscape today.

If you’re looking for an antidote to the sales hype and corporate posturing poisoning many large infosec conferences, join us at BSides Albuquerque. You’ll come for cutting-edge research, hands-on workshops, and great conversations—and leave energized, enlightened, and connected to a community that feels like family. See you in the trenches!

 Frequently Asked Questions

What should I know before attending BSides for the first time?

If you're new to BSides, expect a welcoming, inclusive vibe even if you're not a technical expert. Veteran attendees are eager to share knowledge. Arrive ready to collaborate, converse, and soak up insights. Leverage hands-on activities to build skills. Allow ample open time to network and socialize. The connections made will enrich your career long after your first BSides.

What should I bring to BSides?

A laptop is essential to participate in hands-on activities. Business cards facilitate networking. Comfortable shoes let you navigate the conference facilities and after-hours social events.  

Do I need an advanced cybersecurity background to get value from the sessions? 

While some presentations are highly technical, there are also topics suitable for beginners. The hands-on workshops allow anyone to build relevant skills.

Is there a job fair or opportunities for recruiting talent?

Yes, there is typically a job board where organizations post infosec job openings. It's a great place to look for exciting cybersecurity roles and get hired.

What are some "must see" attractions in Albuquerque and surrounding areas?

Top sights near the BSides venue include the ABQ BioPark, Anderson-Abruzzo Balloon Museum, Petroglyph National Monument, Sandia Peak Tramway, Elena Gallegos Park for hiking, and the Turquoise Trail for scenery. Schedule extra days to explore the region's natural beauty and cultural gems after the conference.

As technologies evolve, so should your security. Discover the difference with ThreatKey and schedule your demo today.

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