Shmoocon Labs – Looking Back

So now that I’ve settled back into my life after the whirlwind that was getting married and 3 weeks later being at Shmoo, I wanted to reflect on my experience this year, as well as look back a bit at what has come before. Labs ( and shmoo ) has been a part of my life for 7 years now, and 6 of them teaching. It’s always fun, always a learning experience, and always something I really look forward to.

What is Labs?

Labs is an environment where we build all the infrastructure for Shmoocon in 24 hours. It’s designed to be a teaching environment at several levels: team-leads teach a specific area, attendees build that area, and everyone must work together ( most times with someone they don’t know ) to bring things together. While it can be a stressful environment, we also have a really good time finding solutions to problems. Getting to work with your peers is one of the best parts of Labs.


So I started with labs waayyy back in 2006 as a participant. I had come to the Shmoocon before, having found it on a short list of east-coast security cons. I had tried several others locally including SANS and ShadowCon at Quantico, but this was the first ‘hacker’ con I went to. What fun. I had never been in a place where people throw balls at speakers for spouting merde, let alone building 2 cycle shmooball shooting devices ( And starting them up in the conference ball room! ). At the end of that ‘con I asked if I could help out. Heidi recommended that I check out labs, so I put in my paper and was accepted.

We had a ball. We had to build the network from the ground up, literally because we had blank machines. We downloaded the ISOs (cd’s back then 😉 and constructed the machines. I was on the ‘infrastructure’ team.. and we got things running pretty quickly. We even hung a hotel sheet on the wall using gaff-tape and put up a display of our system logs and such. Way fun. The team I worked with was a spread of beginners to senior SA’s, but all had the willingness to learn new stuff and try new things. We had pizza and coffee to keep us going and our network didn’t get hacked, didn’t go down. I walked away with a personal commitment to continue to participate, and perhaps get more involved.

The next year, I offered to ‘teach’ Infrastructure, and was accepted. We got labs going and everything went really well ( Tho I think that’s the year we attempted #openbsd and it exploded in our face). The next day as we were last minute tweaking, I found out I was promoted to shmoocon staff when I was unexpectedly invited to the pre-con staff meeting. What a great feeling! It was really neat to have my hard work recognized and become part of such a neat family. It cemented my commitment to working with the ‘con.

So thru the next several years, I continued to teach Infrastructure. I also started thinking of other things i could do for the ‘con. At the ‘0wn the con’ one year, I mentioned how silly it was to have paper reviews when we’re a bunch of computer geeks, and was promptly told “well then fix it!”, and so I created our reviews site. I have also taught a self defense course for geeks ( in CoungNhu karate), and this year I gave my paper ‘TTL of a Penetration‘ which was well accepted.


This year, Labs went even better than expected. It was a bit different in that Brett Thorson staged a bunch of ‘vm’s for us, and we had most all of the configs from last year, so we were able to start from about a 70% complete state. Also my team was made up of senior admins, so we could explore some areas we’d never done before. So we added:

  • A certificate authority
  • A puppet-based VM deployment tool
  • central auth using LDAP
  • central syslogging and nagios ( we didn’t have a monitoring team this year )
  • Trac based Wiki and Ticketing system

And everything mostly went really well. Even with all the pre-event planning on the mailing lists ( a record number of emails this year! ) we still dynamically have to alter plans and come up with solutions. We had a few hiccups .. but that’s normal and part of the plan actually. As we’re a group of people with the same objective, and usually diverse training and capability, someone always brings something new the rest of us can learn from. Our team did an outstanding job this year, and I owe them a debt of gratitude.

We’ve already started planning new concepts and ideas for next year, and as labs seems to grow and improve with every iteration, I expect we’ll actually implement some of them. There seems to be a recurring theme for next year in that we start looking at ‘defense’ as strongly as ‘offense’. Hackers tend to like to find ways to break into things, and admins like for that NOT to happen, so I am hoping to build a new idea into shmoocon that incorporates both ideas. Labs is kinda the epitome of ‘defense’ given our attendee group 😉 and so that crew could be a group to move that idea forward. Time will tell.

If you’re reading this and considering labs, you’ll love it. As a newbie, you’ll get to work with senior people who can teach you both theory and application in building a high-risk network. As a senior person, you’ll get to work with your peers, and play in a really cool environment. You can learn everything from IPv6 to making Cat-5 cables, creating a secure firewall to displaying data in really cool ways. It remains one of the high-points of my year, and something I will always look forward to. I encourage you, if you win that golden ticket, apply for labs and come join us! I promise you won’t be disappointed.

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One Response to Shmoocon Labs – Looking Back

  1. Pingback: Shmoocon Labs 2012 Part 5 | Syncurity Blog

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