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Black Hat, DEF CON Shift To Online-Only Formats This August

‘Even if a vaccine were to be discovered tomorrow, it would not be soon enough to test, manufacture, distribute and administer in time for people to safely travel by August,’ says DEF CON founder Jeff Moss.

Two of the largest cybersecurity conferences in the world said late Friday that there will be no in-person gatherings in Las Vegas this year.

Organizers for Black Hat and DEF CON both said Friday afternoon that their early August events will be exclusively digital due to the coronavirus pandemic. The more corporate Black Hat USA event was scheduled to take place from Aug. 1 to Aug. 6 at Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay Convention Center, while the DEF CON hacker convention was scheduled from Aug. 6 to Aug. 9 at the Caesars Forum in Las Vegas.

“While we will not be meeting in person, we are moving forward with a plan to transform Black Hat USA into an all-virtual event in order to best serve our community,” Black Hat General Manager Steve Wylie wrote on the event site. “Our team is working hard to deliver the same level of high-quality Briefings, Trainings and Business Hall programs that Black Hat attendees have come to expect every year.”

[Related: Black Hat ‘Proceeding With Caution’ Toward In-Person Event]

Details and pricing for the virtual Black Hat Trainings, Briefings and Business Hall programs are being finalized and will be announced this week, event organizers said on Twitter. Black Hat USA drew 20,200 attendees in 2019 and 19,000 attendees in 2018, and featured more than 500 speakers as well as a Business Hall with booths from more than 300 cybersecurity vendors.

The decision to cancel DEF CON was made on April 11, but no announcement was issued as to not endanger the future of the event, according to DEF CON Founder Jeff Moss, who’s also known as The Dark Tangent. It took weeks of working with staff, lawyers, accountants and Caesars for DEF CON to figure out how to navigate the cancellation process, Moss said.

“Even if a vaccine were to be discovered tomorrow, it would not be soon enough to test, manufacture, distribute and administer in time for people to safely travel by August,” Moss wrote in a post Friday. “Too many states have stayed open or are reopening, people partied for far too long, and the lack of federal coordination gives me no hope that things will get back to normal this year.”

Moss also worried that conferences that opted to postpone until later in 2020 will get caught up in a second wave of coronavirus cases after shelter-in-place and social distancing restrictions start to ease, forcing them to ultimately cancel months from now. For this reason, Moss said postponing the in-person DEF CON gathering was not considered as an option.

DEF CON plans to experiment with a free online version of its event called “DEF CON Safe Mode,” with an orientation on Aug. 6 and the virtual event from Aug. 7 to Aug. 9, according to the event forums. DEF CON Safe Made will feature villages like the Packet Hacking Village, contents like the TeleChallenge and Ham Exams, as well as events like a remote movie night and drink-up, according to Moss.

“Between being on home lockdown and having to navigate the future of DEF CON, it has felt like there were land mines around me and the lights were turned off,” Moss wrote in his Friday post. “While cancellation negotiations are still ongoing, I’ve been lucky that the DEF CON Goons and community writ large have been amazing, helping me to navigate in a safe direction.”

Moss started DEF CON in 1993, and the 2019 event drew more than 30,000 attendees. Four years after creating DEF CON, Moss founded Black Hat and ran it for nine years before selling it to CMP Media, a subsidiary of United Business Media (UBM). Black Hat today is owned by Informa following its purchase of UBM in 2018, and Moss remains involved as a member of Black Hat’s Emeritus Review Board.

The calling off of in-person gatherings for Black Hat and DEF CON comes two and a half weeks after BSides Las Vegas canceled its 2020 event due to the coronavirus pandemic. BSides was started in 2009 as a way of providing free education to those who couldn’t afford to get into Black Hat, and the 2020 event was expected to draw 3,100 people to Las Vegas’ Tuscany Suites and Casino on Aug. 4 and Aug. 5.

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