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Black Hat enters the big leagues of Vegas conferences

Over the past 11 years, the conference has grown from a gathering of security professionals to a large Vegas-style conference.

This is my eighth Black Hat, and boy has it grown, especially in the last two years. When I first attended Black Hat back in 2000, the conference had just moved into Caesar's Palace and, with its four session tracks, fit neatly into a small conference area off the main lobby. Back in 2000, there were no vendors. Lunch was served in patio lounge.

Flash forward to today where more than 4,000 confirmed attendees sprawl over two floors, attending 10 session tracks, making their way among the more than 40 vendor stalls. And lunch is now served mess-hall style in a large tent outside the hotel/casino.

Black Hat Director Jess Moss, in his introductory remarks this morning noted that among the 4,000, there are attendees from more than 50 countries, with nearly 20 percent of the audience from outside the United States. He commented that those in attendance weren't only IT or security professionals, but professionals from vertical industries interested in security. For example, in my Monday class on wireless networks was a man from Sherwin-Williams, the paint company.

I miss the intimacy of those early conferences. It's hard this year to spot people in the hallways. This morning's keynote was split into two separate speeches on different floors. And even Richard Clarke's keynote had to be simulcast into two large conference rooms. And lunch required a 20-minute wait in line.

That said, the Black Hat staff has been awesome in anticipating potential problems and addressing those few that cropped up anyway. For example, instead of the tiny registration desk, Black Hot opted for a conference room with individual stalls for preregistered, on-site registration, and media.

On the one hand, I'm glad more companies are realizing that security is very important. On the other hand, the venue, which will be used again next year, will have to be rethought. At least in terms of how to move up to 5,000 people around successfully when the escalators are broken or simply shut down (as there have been here at Caesars since Monday.