Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What I hated about Black Hat this year

I’m on my way home from Black Hat and I have to say, some things have improved since CMP bought the conference a couple years ago. But that is a different blogpost. This is about the things that SUCK now. Like the vendors. Now vendors in and of themselves aren’t so bad when they have technical representation at their booth to talk to con attendees about their products or services. It’s the Booth Bunnies, or in some cases, the Booth Whores, that I find offensive. I’ve gone on record in the past about hating RSA because of the obnoxious marketing overload. I really hope Black Hat isn’t going that direction. I understand that the majority of Black Hat attendees are male, but it is still horribly annoying to watch companies use Cherry 2000 style bimbos try to lure potential customers to their booth based on sex appeal. And the mere fact that booth bunnies exist on the con floor makes it harder to be a woman in this industry and not have the gen pop assume you must be there purely as eye candy.

McAfee had the Security Barbie style booth bunny. I guess to distract you from the fact that their product sucks. I wonder if she comes with the Malibu Beach House.

Cenzic had a Booth Bunny ACROSS the hall from their booth (very sneaky!) stopping people walking by with “are you interested in Web Application Security?” and handing them puzzle pieces you could take to their booth and possibly win a prize. This was really funny, since I was walking with someone who works for one of their competitors (and has better products). As expected, I didn’t win anything. At least she wasn’t dressed up like a tart.

Some company had a Booth Bunny dressed as a Vegas showgirl, which I can at least respect for its theme appropriateness, even if I still hate the Booth Bunny philosophy. She was running different games where people answered questions to win prizes.

The most egregious offender was EdgeOS. When I stopped to snap a picture (and lets be clear, this was the best looking of the three Booth Whores I saw there), one of the guys working the booth asked if I’d gotten an invitation to their Saturday night party. Here is how the conversation went:

EOS Guy: hey, have you gotten an invitation to our party yet?
Me: No.
EOS Guy: you haven’t? how’d that happen? (this was kind of creepy the way he said it)
Me: probably because I didn’t stop by your booth to chat up your booth bunnies for one.
EOS Guy: they aren’t booth bunnies.
Me: no? when they wear pleather they aren’t called booth bunnies anymore?
EOS Guy: no, they’re booth babes (hands me invitation to party)
Me: whatever you call them, they make it harder to be a woman in this industry. (walks away)

You might think calling them Booth Whores is a bit harsh and judgmental. Maybe Goth Booth Bunnies is more sensitive. But this was the most direct sexual marketing I’ve seen at a non-sex industry conference, and if you get paid to dress like that, stick party invitations in your bra, and leverage sexual energy to get geek boys to stop at the booth of your temporary employer, I’d say you are selling your body for profit. AKA whoring.

Anyway, I assume the pleather girls were on display at the EdgeOS party, I don’t know for sure because I didn’t go. If I had, I’d have been the bitchy attendee who just spent the evening giving the hosts and their pleather clad prickteases shit all night, and I didn’t want to waste my time on that even if they were buying the drinks.

Just in case there is some confusion let me be clear: I have no problem with pleather, fetish wear, or pretty girls. That isn’t what I’m complaining about. When vendors bring in booth bunnies it perpetuates the stereotype that the women at cons are not there for the con itself. I have a problem with the fact that every conference I attend, at least one person assumes I must be marketing, PR, or sales. All of those fields are useful and I respect the marketing, PR, and sales people where I work. The problem is that people assume I am something I am not based on my gender. They assume I can’t possibly do anything technical or relevant to their work because I’m female. And that fucking pisses me off. Let me repeat: It isn’t that I don’t respect marketing professionals, its that I get pissed at the discrimination and bias. I understand that guys are surprised I’m a geek, that I game, that I quote sci-fi movies and know what Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep led to. I understand that compared to the average woman you might meet in the mall or coffee shop, I’m an anomoly. But at a security conference, why WOULDN’T I be just like everyone else there?

Other things I hated:
Dan Kaminsky getting a pwnie. Black Hat overhyped his talk in a frenzy of media whoredom, then he got kicked in the balls by being awarded the most overhyped talk pwnie. He worked his ass off on this issue, did all the right things to try and protect people, and instead of earning the respect he deserved, he got made fun of.

Smells Like Teen Spirit transitioning to Saturday Night Fever. FAIL

French press sniffing creds

Snacktime crowds clogging the halls, making movement impossible

Talks that span 2 hours. I don’t want to commit 2 hours to one talk. C’mon people, tighten it up. There are too many interesting things to see to put all my eggs in one basket for 2 talks. By having a 2 hour talk you are not competing with 4 other tracks, you are competing with 8.

Not enough time or space to talk with everyone I wanted to. The size of Black Hat is a blessing and a curse. You see everyone in one place, where you might only see half as many people you want to at a smaller con. But everyone is circulating so there isn’t time for talking with any one person very much. There are a great many people I wish I’d had time to sit down and talk with more.

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Anonymous Adam said...

I agree with you that it's offensive, but would like to suggest a possibly better counter-meme.

"Is she the best thing about your product?" and/or

"I'm glad that you clarified that the best thing about your product is that it's a tease."

11:13 AM  

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