A Northern Geeks trip, well, nowhere

It’s hard to judge time given current non-technical ongoings, but it’s (about) a year since the “A Northern Geeks trip…..” series stayed close to home. That was the inaugural BSides Newcastle, and somehow it came time for the 2020 edition. Which brought about some changes; firstly, C-19 forced the organising team to abandon some amazing plans as this years event went virtual (trust me, some of the plans would have been amazing; no spoilers as I hope they get resurrected for next year (in the hope we can once again share a meatspace location). Secondly, on a personal level I stepped back from being involved with the organising team this year, the strain of C-19 meant I couldn’t take on any additional demands, instead focusing on young family, paid employment, and mental health. Thankfully, and entirely predictably, my absence had zero negative impact on a great conference, which I was able to selfishly enjoy risk free as a participant.

My first thoughts, Virtual conference still feel weird to me. As I posted at the time, livestreaming a conference to my living room that I’m currently travelling in person for just felt off. I suspect this may be the delivery method for the forseeable future, so I hope I can get used to them quickly.

A negative of being in home mode, rather than conference mode is that my note talking during talks was dire, so I can’t provide my usual long form review of the sessions I attended. But there were a few talks that stood that I’d like to mention:

  • Sam Hogy‘s talk on Friday covering security CD/CI pipelines was excellent, and definitely had some content that I want to review again later.
  • Avinash Jain covered a similar topic with discussion of moving security to earlier steps of the DevSevOps pipeline
  • It’s hard to make topics that include the work compliance interesting, even to those of us that work within the various frameworks. But Bugcat did a great job of walking through methods of leveraging SIEM logs and capabilities to drive and prove PCI-DSS compliance. My only complaint was that the resolution of the demos/screenshares was hard to make out some of the exact content shown.

Looking at the talks that really stood out, I found it interesting that my preference in conference material has shifted along with my professional change from red team to blue over the last few years. Whilst they were good talks, Gabriel Ryan generating obfuscated malware payloads on the fly with the introduction of DropEngine, or Mauro and Luis weaponising USB powerbanks didn’t pique my interest the way similar topics have in previous years.

That’s the talks covered, but BSidesNewcastle wouldn’t be living up to it’s tagline of #WhereTheWeirdThingsGrow (emphasis mine) without some weird. Remote nature of this years con meant that we weren’t all huddled in a skate park, or watching a wrestling display whilst enjoying fresh stone baked pizza, but the team did not disappoint on the weird front. From the Antaganostics waving socks containing bricks at swordsmen to settle disputes (don’t ask) to a tin-foil-hat making competition, there was plenty of fun to be had, and memories to be treasured.

So whilst I may personally struggle with the context shift to virtual cons, in a year with physical cons (rightly) cancelled left, right, and center; I’d like to extend my deep appreciation for all of those involved in making the event a great success against all the difficulties this year has presented. This equally goes for the corporate sponsors whom helped provide the resources to make any conference possible, the move away from physical conference must have made sponsorship a risky ROI discussion, I hope the faith in the BSidesNewcastle team and community was well reward (and I’ll try not to take it personally that my own corporate overloads sponsored this year’s event, but was deemed too risky when I was personally involved in running last years proceedings. #itHurts….. 😀 )

Until next year, hopefully we can all safely return to meet, hack and be merry in person.


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