Protest against Trump's US travel ban leaves ‪PasswordsCon‬ in limbo

Hacking convention's founder hacked off with executive order

Donald Trump thumbs up photo via Shutterstock

The next edition of the well-regarded ‪PasswordsCon‬ conference is in doubt as an indirect result of the Trump administration's controversial travel ban.

Organiser-in-chief and founder Per Thorsheim is a Norwegian who would face no issues in visiting Las Vegas to run the conference in July. He has, however, "decided not to go... this year due to what is happening in the US right now", as an explanation of his position uploaded to Pastebin explains.

As a Norwegian I can pretty much go anywhere in the world without fear based on my country of origin. It troubles me deeply that people – refugees – are excluded solely on their country of origin. Or religion, as this #MuslimBan EO really seems to be about. My belief in democracy and the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights takes priority over my work, hobby and general obsession into passwords and digital authentication.

‪PasswordsCon‬ debuted in December 2010, evolving over the six years since towards becoming a biannual event (Las Vegas in July and somewhere in Europe in December). An event in RUB university in Bochum, Germany, back in December marked the eleventh conference.

In Las Vegas, PasswordsCon has been a separate two-day track at BSides for three editions since 2014. Between 150 to 200 people visited the conference in Las Vegas last year, according to Thorsheim.

The conference brings together "hackers", industry experts (CISOs, pen-testers, etc) and academics to share, improve and attack solutions for passwords and related topics. "Common feedback from first-timers is that they had never imagined the width and depth of passwords/authentication and what we are covering with this conference," Thorsheim said.

‪PasswordsCon‬ sets out to advance the state of the art within password cracking, password protection and continued development of best practices in all related areas. The event is designed to be free of sales and marketing pitches, with top speakers from around the world within their respective areas. The focus is on high-quality, no-nonsense research and practical talks.

Thorsheim paid tribute to those who have made the conference a success and expressed hope that he'll be able to return soon. In the meantime, the future of the conference is up in the air. Thorsheim suggested it might be possible to hold it in either Mexico or Canada. Either is less desirable than the Las Vegas gig, which occurs as an adjunct to BSides (BSidesLV) and just before Black Hat and Defcon, meaning a big crowd of hackers and security researchers is already in town.

"The travel ban itself affects people in a way I personally find impossible to accept," Thorsheim told El Reg. "I also think that it will influence the attendance and quality of not just my own conference track, but most security conferences in the US with an international audience."

Some people won't be able to get into the US while others may not want to travel to the US in order to submit talks. Still more won't want to go to the US to participate, according to Thorsheim.

"I have told my co-host Jeremi Gosney and BSidesLV that if they still want to do the password track in July they are free to do so. I won't be there, and I won't try to get any speakers or participants for it.

"If they drop doing the passwords track, I might end up doing PasswordsCon as a separate event either in July, or shortly afterwards in another country. Canada is high up on my list, as it makes it rather easy for Americans to attend, while also allowing people in from most countries around the world," he concluded. ®


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