Black Hat and Defcon look to boost diversity through day care

It’s harder than you think to run a day care at the largest hacking conferences in the world.

Alfred Ng Senior Reporter / CNET News
Alfred Ng was a senior reporter for CNET News. He was raised in Brooklyn and previously worked on the New York Daily News's social media and breaking news teams.
Alfred Ng
4 min read
DEFCON Cybersecurity Hacker Kids r00tz Asylum

The r00tz asylum isn't a day care at Defcon, but does offer resources for families at the hacking conference.

Ann Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images

When Jeff Moss started Defcon in 1993, it was unheard of to bring kids to the hacker conference in Las Vegas. Now, as the conference and its attendees grow up, and more security researchers and hackers are becoming parents, services like day cares and childcare rooms at Black Hat and Defcon are in high demand.

As the largest hacking conferences, Black Hat and Defcon present an opportunity for security researchers to take training workshops and network with professionals in cybersecurity. But for many years, some parents who didn't make arrangements for their children couldn't attend.

That changed two years ago, when Black Hat started offering day care services -- two decades after it all began. The conference, which is considered a more formal and corporate equivalent of Defcon, started the services after attendees noted a lack of women in cybersecurity.

Black Hat and Defcon mark just the latest conferences in the tech world which have reexamined how inclusive they've been and whether they've put in enough of an effort to attract different attendees. Similar criticism has been lobbed at the Consumer Technology Association's CES conference, which has likewise made an effort to support more women and people of color.

Many conferences outside cybersecurity started offering day care services for the same reason, but help is still lacking. Female researches from the University of California, known as a Working Group of Mothers in Science, published an opinion piece in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in March 2018 saying that conferences create barriers for women when they don't offer childcare resources.

"Parent–researchers face a conundrum as they struggle to attend key conferences and further their careers while finding care for the children," the group wrote in the article.

For Black Hat, more than half of the respondents on a survey conducted by the organizers in 2018 said that they were concerned about a shortage of minorities and women at the conference, according to Black Hat General Manager Steve Wylie.

Watch this: Hackers take on new voting machines at Defcon

This change is coming amid a shift in the demographics in the cybersecurity field and a corresponding rise in interest. A 2019 survey from the International Information System Security Certification Consortium found that women make up 24% of the workforce in cybersecurity, a jump from 11% reported in 2017.

"We hope that a program like this makes it easier for more mothers and parents in general to attend Black Hat," Wylie said.

Black Hat isn't the only security conference that offers day care services. LocoMocoSec, a security conference in Hawaii started offering complimentary childcare in 2018. Moss said that Defcon wanted to introduce day care for the first time this year, but was not able to work out the logistics. The conference's organizers intend on making it available in the future, Moss added.

But it's taking steps to address that issue. With Defcon spread across four different hotels this year, it will be the first time that the hacking conference is offering Mother's Rooms.

"This year we had extra hotel space, so we added extra villages. We started thinking, what other groups can use extra space?" Moss said. "We're looking to see how those childcare rooms are being used."

Day care challenges

While Black Hat's day care program is just in its third year, the program has grown each time, Wylie said.

The security conference has thousands of attendees each year, but only a handful of parents have taken advantage of the day care program. In its first year, KiddieCorp, a company that provides day care services to conventions, watched over eight children for two days, the organization said.

The following year, the day care service had nine children. Black Hat is doubling day care services to four days as the demand grows, Wylie said.

"We want to make sure this is an inclusive and welcoming event to everybody," the organizer said.

This year, KiddieCorp is expecting to watch over 13 children in its day care, said Amber Standley, Kiddie Corp's operations manager.

The program is offered for children from 6 months to 12 years old, and costs $10 per hour for each child. That is on top of the registration costs for Black Hat, which starts at $2,295 to attend.

Having a day care program in Las Vegas isn't a simple task, Moss learned. Defcon's organizers spent six months trying to implement the service for the first time this year, but found several roadblocks pulling it together.

To have childcare services in Las Vegas, the program needs to be compliant with Nevada's childcare licensing, health department and fire codes, said KiddieCorp sales associate Patsy Guerrero. Caretakers need to have local childcare licenses, the food served needs to be inspected, and the room needs to be fire marshal compliant.

In Las Vegas, the ratio of adults to children for day cares in one to seven, but KiddieCorp said it has one adult for every two children.

"It's a lot of steps, but with enough time, it's doable," Guerrero said.

Hackers, parents

Defcon has come a long way since Moss first started the conference.

"In the early days, you wouldn't bring your kid to Defcon, that would be crazy," Moss said. "As the older ones in our community started having kids, they wanted to keep coming back and seeing their friends."

As a joke, Moss said they created Defcon onesies for babies, and he was surprised to learn it sold out.

Nico Sell co-founded the r00tz Asylum in 2010 as a way to give kids something to do at the conference. The r00tz Asylum is not exactly a day care, as the hacking challenges are geared for kids aged 8 to 16, but it does provide families a way to be together at Defcon.

Parents have told Sell that they wouldn't have been able to attend Defcon if it weren't for r00tz, she said.

"As a mother, my daughters have been to Defcon every year of their lives," Sell said. "I think it's fantastic to get more kids at these events and involved."