Every two years there is a “long night of science” in my region, which is a local event that allows researchers, companies, and other to present something to the public. One buys a ticket which is valid for the whole night and then can travel through the city and be entertained by companies, universities, and other local organizations. The main goal is making science accessible to lay people and in general having fun.
The last time, in 2019, I was part of my university group and presented together with my supervisor and my colleagues. Our event called “Live Hacking” in general attracts a massive amount of people. The goal of the event is to entertain people with “hacker” topics, such as malware, forensics, taking over devices etc. We specifically show what hackers are capable of and entertain the viewer with impressive demos, cliché black terminal screens and a general fun atmosphere.
Since it was skipped the year before, this year we were able to participate again. Since my supervisor has left the university, I managed to convince my dear colleagues to help me set up a nice evening. It was well-attended (far more than anticipated and way too much for a pandemic) and unsurprisingly, we got really positive feedback after it.
We presented three main topics. My part was talking about passwords, a recurring topic in security.
“Do you think this password is secure?” is one of the questions I started my talk with. It’s a good way to interact with your audience, creates good gotcha moments and is all too familiar to most people, as everyone uses and needs to come up with passwords in their life. I also explained hashes with my favorite “broken plate” analogy and showed how hackers can easily create thousands of passwords with simple tools (rsmangler for the interested). Also, the obligatory link to HaveIBeenPwned to show how people can self-check their password security.
It was again a really great experience, but even better were two things that can not be underestimated. Many people reached out to us after the talk to discuss, ask further questions or just say thanks for the talk. It was really exciting to hear the different experiences people have with hacking topics. In addition, we already received two offers to give further talks for other events. One has already taken place, where we talked in front of computer science teachers in Munich.
As researchers during a pandemic, you do not get many chances to talk to other people about your work or your field. I love talking to non-technical people about technology and security, because it is not easy to transform your technical know-how into a language that lay people understand, and that’s a challenge I love to do. I can only recommend using every possibility you get in your career to talk about your work, because there are valuable skills to be learned!