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Black Hat ‘Proceeding With Caution’ Toward In-Person Event

Black Hat USA plans to add digital elements to the Aug. 1 to Aug. 6 conference so attendees can ‘participate in a way that they are comfortable with.’ Last year’s show drew 20,200 people to Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay Convention Center.

The organizers of massive cybersecurity conference Black Hat are for now still planning to move forward with an in-person event this August in Las Vegas.

“While we are proceeding with caution towards an in-person event, we are also developing robust digital options in case we need to adjust to circumstances beyond our control,” Black Hat General Manager Steve Wylie wrote in a letter posted to the event website Wednesday.

Wylie said Black Hat continues to monitor key development in the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and will follow the guidance of health officials, the State of Nevada and the City of Las Vegas on when events can safely resume. Black Hat plans to add digital elements to this year’s event so that attendees can “participate in a way that they are comfortable with,” according to Wylie.

[Related: Two Exabeam Employees At RSA Conference Now Have Coronavirus]

Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman has referred to Nevada’s sweeping nonessential business closures as “total insanity,” and earlier this week called for the swift reopening of hotels and casinos but didn’t provide any guidance on how they should handle social distancing and other safety measures. Like most of the Las Vegas Strip, the Mandalay Bay is actually located in the unincorporated town of Paradise.

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak has pushed back against Goodman’s suggestion, stating the state is “clearly not ready” to open and that Nevada won’t be able to rebuild its economy if it’s losing more people. Black Hat organizers weren’t immediately available for additional comment.

Black Hat USA occurs annually in early August at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, and this year’s event is scheduled to take place from Aug. 1 to Aug. 6. The conference drew 20,200 attendees in 2019 and 19,000 attendees in 2018, and features more than 500 speakers as well as a Business Hall with immersive booths from more than 300 cybersecurity vendors.

The conference was started in 1997 by Jeff Moss as the more corporate sibling of DEF CON, the hacker convention founded by Moss four years earlier. Moss sold Black Hat in 2005 to CMP Media, a subsidiary of United Business Media (UBM), and the conference today is owned by Informa following its purchase of UBM in 2018. Moss remains involved with Black Hat as a member of the Emeritus Review Board.

Moss, who’s also known as The Dark Tangent, posted Tuesday that a decision will be made by May 15 as to whether or not DEF CON 28 is happening this year in Las Vegas. That’s pushed up from a June 1 decision deadline Moss provided in a March 12 post. DEF CON is slated to take place right after Black Hat at the Caesars Forum and nearby hotels, and the 2019 event drew more than 30,000 attendees.

“If it isn’t already clear to us, we will pause our frantic DC28 [DEF CON 28] planning and talk with the hotel to see how they are feeling, with Black Hat to see what their numbers are looking like, and check what current global travel restrictions are and if they are expected to change,” Moss wrote in his March 12 post. “Essentially, do we feel the United States is operating in or close to the ‘new normal’?”

A third cybersecurity conference that takes place in Las Vegas the same week as Black Hat and DEF CON has already cashed in its chips. BSides Las Vegas announced Tuesday that it’s officially cancelling its 2020 event, which was expected to draw 3,100 people to the Tuscany Suites and Casino on Aug. 4 and Aug. 5. BSides started in 2009 to provide free education for those who couldn't afford to get into Black Hat.

“We understand and share in everyone’s hope that things will return to normal soon, but we have to be realistic,” BSides Las Vegas wrote Tuesday on the event website. “It would be unfair to ask our staff to go forward with preparations while knowing there is a high probability their efforts would be wasted.”

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