DEF CON 31: Where IoT Cybersecurity Meets the Zero-Day Frontier

Article By Dr Petar Radanliev (University of Oxford), 1 September 2023


DEF CON 2023 in the heart of Las Vegas was less of a hackers conference and more of a symposium of elite digital craftsmanship, where the riddles of zeroes and ones were dissected and where code vulnerabilities were scrutinised under the critical eyes of global hacking maestros.

DEF CON is more than just a gathering; it’s where cutting-edge cyber hacking methods such as payloads, meet advanced persistent threats (APTs), and where the dark arts of cyber threats such as buffer overflows, man-in-the-middle attacks, and social engineering techniques are refined.

Dotted with specialised ‘Villages,’ the conference enabled attendees to deep dive into myriad cyber realms. Among these, the Red Team Village stood out, setting the stage for orchestrated attacks, honing strategies around spear-phishing, and executing advanced privilege escalation techniques. It’s here that Dr Petar Radanliev, donning his white-hat (courtesy of University of Oxford), decoded cyber enigmas with fellow ethical hackers, all under the auspices of the PETRAS Event Support Grants (PESG).


Having worn multiple hats – from mitigating DDoS attacks at the Royal Bank of Scotland to reverse engineering protocols for the Ministry for Defence – Dr Radanliev’s extensive toolkit enriched the Red Team Village’s cyber sandbox.

But DEF CON 31 was more than a showcase of cyber tradecraft. It mirrored the broader vision of the PETRAS National Centre of Excellence for IoT Cybersecurity, an institution ardently mapping attack vectors in the ever-expanding IoT space. Collaborating with a multitude of governmental agencies, academic institutions, and industry giants, PETRAS is instrumental in evolving the threat landscape, researching advanced mitigation techniques, and decoding new-age vulnerabilities in the IoT ecosystem.

PETRAS’s outreach isn’t just limited to labs and simulations. Through the PETRAS Event Support Grant (PESG), it’s bridging the knowledge gap, fuelling dialogues on zero-day vulnerabilities, and pushing the boundaries on next-gen malware analyses. The cyber footprints of these grants, as evidenced by Dr Radanliev’s DEF CON stint, resonate deeply within the cryptic alleys of the hacking community.

In a digital era punctuated with state-sponsored attacks, ransomware mafias, and escalating cyber espionage, events like DEF CON and think tanks like PETRAS remain the vanguards. Their joint odyssey ensures that every byte and bit crafted leans towards fortifying our digital future, making the realm of cyberspace a bit safer for us all.


Learn more about Petar Radnaliev’s PETRAS research at the following project pages: