InfoSec Southwest 2012 Debrief

ISSW 2012 LogoA couple of weekends ago I hosted my first information security and hacking conference called InfoSec Southwest here in Austin, Texas.  Having been attending such conferences for over fifteen years, and being involved with those in such capacities as speaker, volunteer, and sponsor, I had a general idea of the amount of work that this undertaking would be and luckily I wasn’t too far off in my estimation.  Had this been much more work than I had expected, I just might have keeled over and died from over-stimulation and exhaustion…

Overall, the conference went extremely smooth, which I attribute almost entirely to my awesome staff that I had handling the logistics and execution of the event, Christina and Rachel.  As they aren’t InfoSec or hacker folks I did have to handle a few key components myself such as soliciting sponsorship, managing the speaker selection process, and coming up with badges that were a little more involved than just a printed card and a generic lanyard, but nearly all of the remainder of the event planning and execution I left in their capable hands and they did not let me down, nor did our excellent volunteers who assisted during the execution of the event.

As you may have heard by now, we had challenge coins made for our badges this year.  I chose to go this route for a couple of reasons, primarily because one of my goals for the conference was to bring together the hacker, professional InfoSec, and defense and military communities.  Challenge coins are quite popular in the defense and military space so I was hoping that the badge would appeal particularly well to them.  Also, I wanted to provide everyone involved in our first year with a quality keepsake that honored their involvement.  That said, we will not use challenge coins as our badge for any subsequent iterations of this conference.  Next year and possibly subsequent years we intend to provide a discount on registration if you have, and can produce during check-in, your challenge coin.  We also intend to auction off a few of the remaining challenge coins to help fund next year’s conference, and you may occasionally find one of our coins showing up in other charity auctions in the future.

Regarding this year’s selection of speakers, I was quite happy with the outcome and was impressed by their professionalism and punctuality.  We unfortunately had two speakers who had to cancel within the week leading up to the conference, however we planned for this potentiality by having two alternate speakers selected who would be able to fill in if just such a thing were to happen.  Unfortunately one of our alternates also had to cancel so we ended up with one speaker slot that was regrettably empty during the second day of the conference.  It just goes to show you that even when you plan for a certain level of failure or unexpected deviance from the original plan, things can still go awry.  Regardless, the remaining speakers nearly all kept to their allotted time slots and showed up on time to speak.  I was also extremely happy to have our first choice selection for our Keynote, Mudge, accept and deliver our Keynote.  As mentioned before, I was attempting to bring together the hacker, professional InfoSec, and defense and military communities with our conference and Mudge quite nicely embodies all three of these sectors.

The Saturday Night party had a few hiccups with the DJ equipment which resulted in us having to shuffle our lineup a bit but overall went off quite well.  The open bar provided by various sponsors and some individuals provided just enough funds to keep our attendance drinking for nearly five hours and only ran dry right before the venue bar was about to close at 2:00 am anyway.  The feedback I got regarding the party was very positive, and it seems that choosing to co-locate our conference party alongside another unrelated party in the same venue provided an interesting atmosphere for our attendees.  I’d especially like to thank IOActive for sponsoring the party by flying in Keith Myers to DJ for us as well as contributing to the open bar.  I had a number of my local Austin friends at the party and all of them really enjoyed Keith’s set.

On the second day of the conference we decided to move the AHA! style open forum out of the second lecture space we had rented and into the chill area where we had the CTF and Lockpick Village happening.  The first day of the conference we had a number of people show up to speak during the open forum however due to the location of the lecture space we were using it seemed to not be conducive to keeping an audience in there, so many of them chose not to speak due to the lack of a decent sized audience, or at some times an audience at all.  There was also an issue with the Lockpick Village on the first day as they were attempting to provide their instructional mini-lectures during our caffeine breaks and without an audio system it was very difficult to hear their speaker over the noise of the breaks, so by bringing the open forum track out into this area, along with it’s audio system, we were able to solve both issues with one solution.  On the second day, we had a number of open forum speakers actually present as the space always had a bit of a captive audience in the CTF participants and others just hanging out in the chill area, and the Lockpick Village was able to be heard over the noise of the breaks by having the audio system available to them.  Keeping things dynamic with the format definitely assisted in resolving these two issues which really were the only major issues we had with the conference proper.

All in all the conference was a major success and we will be hosting it again next year.  Our attendance was a little lower than expected due in large part to nearly none of the Dallas / Fort Worth crowd showing up (where were you guys???) but not so low that we took too much of a financial hit.  We did expect to come out in the red this first year however we came fairly close to breaking even, so we expect next year to begin making a small profit which we can then use to grow the conference a little as we would like to have more contests and competitions, more attendees, and more perks for our speakers and attendees.  I hope to see you all at the conference in 2013!

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