We are very pleased that Hack.RVA will be the masterminds behind our badges once again!  They have been with us since the very beginning and this makes it the 5th conference in a row. We know just how much work is involved with this project and we are privileged to have their creations at our conference!

We recently spoke with Morgan Stuart and Paul Bruggeman about the badges:

(RVAsec) The badges have always been a huge hit at RVAsec. Can you tell us a little about the badges and the process over the years?

For us, the goal of the RVAsec badge has always been to make something that gets the conference goers talking and engaging with each other. That means puzzles, games, and usually some way to screw with each other.

This year, like the past years, the badges have all been built by hand, right here in RVA by a bunch of crazy HackRVA members. We start from bare copper boards, etch out our custom design, place surface-mount parts, hand-solder through-hole components, and flash them with our own firmware. This removes any manufacturing cost, which frees up some green to stuff the board with cool features and components. It also gives the badges a unique look that you won’t find anywhere else.

This will be the fourth RVAsec badge that Paul and I have organized out of HackRVA, and each year we try and find ways to improve on the end result. It’s been challenging, but everyone is proud of the progress we make each year. We’ll have all the past year’s badges on display at our booth, so newcomers and nostalgia-seekers should come check it out.

(RVAsec) What are the plans for the badges this year?  What are the new features?

We really liked last year’s hardware, and felt that the design could stick around at least one more year. Still, we reworked the layout quite a bit to help prevent the hardware failures we were seeing and improve some of the functionality. Since we didn’t have to redesign the hardware from scratch, or implement drivers for new components, we could procrastinate bit more on the whole project. In all seriousness, we’ve used the extra time to involve more people and start thinking a little bigger with software. We have a lot more people cranking out code, including some special attention to power management. We’re looking forward to the inevitable commit/merge frenzy in the final days.

(RVAsec) How is the badge build process going this year?

We’ve etched, placed parts, and performed an initial QC on over 350 Badges. Now we’re soldering on the final through hole components and doing a more thorough QC pass on every board.

(RVAsec) It was rumored the badges played a part in the CTF last year.  Can you tell us more?

It wasn’t a secret – last year we had a wide range of challenges for people to complete on the badge that would net them points in the conference CTF. Difficulty ranged from following simple instructions within the badge’s menu, to parsing through the raw firmware, to decoding low-frequency serial transmissions. And yes, there will be more badge CTF challenges this year!

(RVAsec) If someone wanted to hack them, what would they need to do?

The badges will again have standard USB, which can be used to re-flash the firmware or even call many of the core routines.

(RVAsec) Can you give attendees any other hints about the badges?

We’ve always enjoyed adding some nostalgia-factors to the badge, and this year will be no different. Also, this year’s badges should match almost any outfit…

(RVAsec) Anything else?

Obviously Paul and I are not doing this alone, we’ve had amazing help from some very dedicated volunteers out of HackRVA. We start in the fall with hour-long meetings each week and we slowly ramp up to 4 hour build sessions in the spring. It’s quite the commitment and support grows every year. Quick shout-out to some of those that have been contributing:

  • Jon Lundquist

  • Alan Ford

  • Lloyd Flanagan

  • Jason Phillips

  • Allison Sands

  • Thad Martin

  • Eli Woods

  • Giovanni Viscardi

  • Charles Nelson

We are very excited to see the badges this year and know RVA5sec attendees will love them again!

If you have time to visit one of their Thursday night Open Houses that occur every week, like tonight, you should go check them out!