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DerbyCon cybersecurity conference is unique and troubling

Walking up to DerbyCon 7.0 cybersecurity conference it immediately has a very different feel from the “major” infosec conferences. Attendees would never be caught loitering outside of the Black Hat or DEFCON venues, because no one willingly spends more time than necessary outdoors in Las Vegas. RSAC attendees might be outside, but only because it’s simply impossible to fit 40,000-plus humans into the Moscone Center without triggering claustrophobics.

DerbyCon is different though. The cybersecurity conference literally begins on the sidewalk outside the Hyatt Regency in Louisville and the best parts (as many will tell you) take place in the lobby at the so-called “LobbyCon,” where anyone with the means to get to Louisville can participate in the conference without a ticket.

Groups of hackers, pen testers, researchers, enthusiasts and other various infosec wonks can be found talking about any and all topics from cybersecurity to “Rick and Morty” and everything in between. This feel of community extends into DerbyCon proper with attendees lining the hallways, not looking desperately in need of rest like other major infosec conferences, but talking, sharing and connecting.

The feel of DerbyCon cybersecurity conference  is not unlike a miniature DEFCON – but with a higher emphasis on the lounge areas – and that appearance seems intentional. Just like DEFCON, the parties in the evening get as much promotion as the daytime talks (Paul Oakenfold and Busta Rhymes this year), and just like DEFCON, DerbyCon hosts “villages” for hands-on experiences with lock-picking, social engineering, IoT hacking, hacking your derby hat and more.

On top of all that, DerbyCon is a place for learning all aspects of infosec. The tracks are broken into four – Break Me, Fix Me, Teach Me and The 3-Way (for talks that don’t fit neatly into one of the other buckets.)

The two keynotes had bigger messages but were rooted in storytelling; Matt Graeber, security researcher for SpecterOps, told the story of how he became a security researcher and how it led him to finding a flaw in Windows. John Strand, a SANS Institute instructor and owner of Black Hills Information Security, told a heart-wrenching tale of the lessons he learned from his mother as she was dying of cancer and how those lessons convinced him the infosec industry needs to be more of a community and not fight so much.

The good with the bad

For all of the unique aspects of DerbyCon it was hard to ignore one way that it is very similar to other cybersecurity conferences – the vast majority of attendees are white males.

Without demographics data, it is unclear if the proportion of minorities and women is lower for DerbyCon, but it is something that feels more prominent given that the tone of the conference is one of community. DerbyCon feels like a space where everyone is welcome, so noticing that there isn’t a more diverse base of attendees can serve to highlight an issue that is often talked about but may not get the real engagement needed to create meaningful change.

While it could be argued that size and location of DerbyCon might contribute to there being a low proportion of women and minorities here, it can’t be used as an excuse, and the issue is not unique to DerbyCon. The infosec world overall needs to make more of an effort to promote diversity, and DerbyCon cybersecurity conference serves as one more example of that.

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