Black Hat 2023: Reflections from a first-timer 

Group of people standing in large room with tv monitors at Black Hat 2023

Now that the dust has settled and the hype surrounding Black Hat 2023 has subsided, I wanted to take a moment to share some thoughts about attending this cutting-edge conference for the first time. I’ve also sprinkled in some recommendations to anyone attending as a newbie next year. 

What is Black Hat? 

Black Hat is one of the most well-known information security events in the world. Held annually all over the globe, the one in the U.S. is in Las Vegas, NV. It’s considered the venue to be for security companies, government agencies, and businesses of all sizes.  

Tailored to professionals looking for actionable insights to take back to their organizations, Black Hat is an opportunity to discuss the latest in cybersecurity threats, present new research, discuss vulnerabilities, discover new technologies, and network with peers from around the world. Many groundbreaking and even controversial research findings have been presented at Black Hat over the years. 

While simultaneously energizing and fascinating, attending Black Hat for the first time can also be overwhelming, exhausting, and challenging, simply because there’s so much to take in.  

If you’ve never attended Black Hat, but plan to in 2024, here are some of insights and tips to get the most from the experience.  

Be strategic   

Black Hat offers a plethora of opportunities to learn, explore, and connect. However, it also requires a lot of planning, prioritizing, and stamina. You can easily get lost in the sea of booths, sessions, keynotes, and events.  

Having a clear goal and strategy for what you want to achieve while at Black Hat can help you get the most out of this valuable conference.   

Do you want to learn about a specific topic or technology? Meet potential partners or customers? Simply have fun and socialize? Whatever your goal is, make sure you align your schedule and activities accordingly. 

Having been warned that Black Hat was a lot to take in. Here’s what my strategy looked like:  

     

      • Day one: Meet with existing partners and see what new stuff they had to offer 

       

        • Day two: Check out the new and emerging tech within the industry, and meet new folks. By the second day, many vendors have their approach and pitch nailed down. I hoped to capitalize on that to learn as much as possible with my limited time. 

      Be selective about badge scanning  

      One of the most common interactions you will have at Black Hat is badge scanning. Every vendor will ask you to scan your badge in exchange for some swag, information, or demo, which can be a blessing and a curse.  

      On one hand, it’s a convenient way to access relevant resources and contacts without having to type or write anything. On the other hand, it is also a sure way to fill your inbox with spam and unwanted follow-ups.  

      In the environment of Black Hat, I learned that there’s a bit of an art to it: 

         

          • Be selective and smart about who you let scan your badge 

          • Only scan your badge if you are genuinely interested in the vendor’s offering, or have a specific question or need. Or, if they’ve got some great swag.  

        Be realistic about work  

        If you think you can attend Black Hat and still keep up with your regular work, think again. Black Hat is a full-time commitment that will consume your entire day and night. You will be busy attending keynotes, sessions, workshops, demos, meetings, lunches, dinners, parties, and more. You will barely have time to check your email or phone, let alone respond to them.  

        Don’t make the mistake of promising your boss or colleagues that you will be available or productive during Black Hat. Instead, set realistic expectations and delegate or postpone any urgent tasks before you go. Trust me, you will thank yourself later.  

        Because I did not do this, I found myself staying up late answering emails, handling tasks, and generally stressing about the current business dealings of my organization. Instead, it would have been ideal to have spent that time taking notes on what I saw, organizing new contact info, and strategizing about my upcoming days at the conference. 

        Black Hat: More than just a conference   

        There’s no question that Black Hat can be a demanding and intense event. However, it’s also an amazing experience. If you’ve never attended this event and you’re passionate about cybersecurity, I highly recommend putting it at the top of your cybersecurity conferences list. It is a rare opportunity to learn from the best, discover new solutions, and connect with like-minded professionals.  

        I was fortunate enough to attend with three of my Fortified Health Security colleagues, and we all came away with different insights, perspectives, and takeaways. You can learn more about those on the short video we recorded together:  

        See you at Black Hat 2024! 

         

        Jake Bice is the Director of Cybersecurity Operations at Fortified Health Security. In this pivotal role, Jake is responsible for the strategic oversight of the Security Operations Center, assessing and resolving client needs, training teams, and refining the processes that underpin service delivery to clients. Jake’s extensive career in Infosec has been dedicated entirely to supporting healthcare environments, and his wealth of experience provides invaluable insights and context from both operational and technological perspectives.