Hackathon paradise in Miami Beach | Crain's

Hackathon paradise in Miami Beach

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Sometimes to beat ’em, you’ve got to join ’em. That’s the approach taken by organizers and participants at the annual HackMiami Conference.

HackMiami organizers bill their meeting as an event that “brings together the brightest minds within the information-security industry and the digital underground for an intense weekend of information exchange, open panels and nonstop entertainment.” HackMiamiCon 6 is set for May 18–20 in Miami Beach.

“We’re ‘white hats,’” says Rod Soto, secretary of HackMiami’s board and a local computer security specialist. “White hats are the ones [who act] within the law — ethical hackers. So we basically research. We have the same skills as the black hats, but we use our knowledge to protect, to fight crime.”

Indeed, HackMiami targets the techies willing to use their prowess to counter what one U.S. Department of Homeland Security official called “the fastest-growing and fastest-changing area of threat that we’re confronting.” official.

Organizers take a come-one, come-all approach that attracts all kinds. The meetup-style conference brings together leading researchers and cyberwarriors, as well as employers looking for good cybersecurity recruits, Soto says.

“Basically, when we started HackMiami, we wanted to do here what they were doing in other places in the country,” Soto says, referring to meetings such as DefCon, the nation’s largest hacker conference, held annually in Las Vegas.

Those who attend hacking conferences are “college drop-outs, people who work in retail, IT professionals trying to break into security, veterans, law enforcement people who may not be technical but want to hear what’s going on,” Soto says. “People who may be frustrated in their current careers see this as a way to expand their horizons and change their lifestyles.”

Over the years, these people have participated in simulated hacks on real-life operating systems, such as Fedora, which is used by computers in China, and infiltrated Zeus, a malicious “botnet” army of computers.

In addition, says Jonathan Respeto, a HackMiami organizer, “We’ll have an event room where we’ll do a little lock-picking village or cyber Capture the Flag [game], with a scoreboard and people participating.” He continues, “We try to incorporate all kinds of security. It’s mostly to bring security out or heighten people’s awareness of security and how easily things can be manipulated.”

Respeto manages the regular meetups HackMiami hosts during the remainder of the year. He hopes to expand to reach students at both the high school and college levels. Florida Atlantic University, Florida International University and Nova Southeastern University all offer degree programs in cybersecurity.

Meanwhile, Respeto and Soto say, the nonprofit HackMiami is an excellent networking opportunity that also allows attendees to expand their skills and knowledge base.

Essentially, Respeto says, “people just want to come together and talk about their passion for IT security.”

February 25, 2018 - 5:14pm