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SecurityTrails Blog · Jan 09 · SecurityTrails team

Hacker Hunks and Nerd Punks: 36th Chaos Communication Congress

Reading time: 8 minutes

In the days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve when holiday markets close their stands and put away their decorations, and the smell of mulled wine begins to fade, the vibrant German city of Leipzig becomes a hot spot for tens of thousands of hackers, enthusiasts, artists and like-minded individuals.

So if you’ve ever wondered what’s the best way to spend the end of the year, put your wristbands on, grab a Tschunk and jump on your scooter—we’re going to 36C3.

Chaos Communication Congress

The 36th Chaos Communication Congress held at Congress Center Leipzig (CCL) welcomed around 17,000 computer geeks, freaks, hackers, activists, artists, hippies and everyone in between. An annual conference, the Chaos Communication Congress is hosted by the Chaos Computer Club, a widely respected hacker group founded in the early 1980s.

The Congress is Europe’s largest hacker conference and a 36-year-old tradition. Two years ago it was moved to Leipzig, and this is the largest venue yet. They had to leave Hamburg, as the Hamburg congress center was closed for renovation. The talks presented at the Congress are the crème de la crème of security and hacking, with many hackers and professionals showcasing their clever projects and research on open-source, security, and privacy. Along with discussions on security, at C3 you can find lectures on social, ethical and political issues, hacktivism, science, medicine, global warming and more.

the 36th chaos communication congress

And the crowd?

The fact that it takes place during the holidays does much to filter its range of attendees. Next to that, we have the infamous ticketing process, with tickets being sold out in mere seconds. Still, this doesn’t stop the impressive number of enthusiasts from descending upon Leipzig each year to discuss the societal impacts of technology, collaborate on different projects, learn in focused workshops, network and simply have fun together.

And don’t expect to find any booths, marks or logos of tech giants and companies trying to show off their latest products, because Chaos Communication Congress is not that type of tech conference. They are notoriously anti-corporate, which grounds their utopist and critical outlook on technology, privacy, surveillance and freedom of information.

chaos communication congress - the crowd

As we mentioned, you can find lectures on almost any given topic, and there are speakers from all around the world discussing the current state of technology and security, but the soul of the CCC is its people. When going to the Congress, it doesn’t matter if it’s your first or thirty-first time coming—you always feel at home. Everyone is welcome here, and the fact that even if you’ve never come close to breaking into a system, that won’t stop you from meeting so many different folk, participating in different projects and sharing your hobbies with other individuals at all the self-organised sessions and workshops (you can even learn how to make your own kefir!).

The entire Congress feels like a giant 24/7 party, where you can go from learning about privacy data distribution in one spot to a techno party just 200 meters away, where you’ll let loose and enjoy their signature, mate-infused cocktail, “Tschunk.” You’re free to be whoever you are, or whoever you want to be.

Congress daily

In the heart of the Congress are their Angels, volunteers who run the entire thing. Ticketing, maintaining WiFi, security, translating, recording and uploading live streams, serving on medical teams; all are done by volunteers. In fact, around 5,000 of the 17,000 visitors were Angels who worked day and night to make the conference happen.

To see a self-organised conference with such a long and successful tradition of simply bringing people together for a common cause is a rare sight, making the Congress vastly different from any other tech event.

36C3

36C3

While the official first day of 36C3 was the 26th of December, jumping on the opportunity to get your wristband with as little waiting in line as possible, and getting a glimpse of what the next four days have in store means hitting the ground running on day zero.

The venue is huge. Stepping into its 35,000 square meters makes you feel like you’ve just entered another dimension, one filled with LED lights and bearing little resemblance to the outside world.

Walking through the central glass hall makes you automatically grab your phone so you can download the Hallenplan (the interactive indoor navigation) to help you find your way around the glass hall, the two main halls and the actual Congress Center. As you walk around the venue, and the pedometer on your phone sends notifications congratulating you on your step count, you can’t miss the numerous watering holes like the No Bar Bar and the well-known Uptime Bar, to grab a Club-Mate or Flora Power Mate bottle out of the thousands supplied.

watering holes

If it’s your first time coming to the Congress, a likely prediction is that you will maybe, just maybe, see all the halls, corners and booths by the third day. The two main halls are reserved for assemblies of different hacker groups who bring their toys, work together on projects and present people from their communities.

There are amazing lectures each day, and we will certainly be highlighting our favorites from this year’s Congress, but what really makes an impact each year is the impressive range of self-organised sessions and assemblies.

congress sessions

Assemblies

Because all of the lectures are live streamed and you can easily opt for watching them in your hotel room and at your convenience, the place to be during the Congress are the two halls that host assemblies. This year, there were:

  • 194 assemblies
  • 532 self-organized sessions and
  • 91 projects

Compare that to the number of official talks and lectures (300+), and you get a good idea of where the actual fun happens. This is where folks from hackerspaces gather, set up their booths and wow you with their LED toys. Visit HackThisSite, go to the famous Lockpicking Area to try and pick a lock, or join the CryptoParty. You’ll find most of the people in attendance sitting around the tables at different assemblies, tinkering with different projects, and—plainly and simply—hacking.

If you get tired of all the flashing lights, the abundance of people and all that’s happening right in front of you, you can sit and relax at the whiskey tasting, one that features an artificial fireplace. A lot of people go there alone, and from different parts of the world, but you can be sure to find people from your hackerspace. Should you still find yourself lonely, head to Chaos Post to send a postcard, or check out their ‘forever alone’ box to seek out other lonely individuals there. This year, Chaos Post delivered over 3,000 postcards to 42 countries and 35,000 postcards were delivered internally.

“Resource Exhaustion”

The motto of the 36th Chaos Communication Congress was “Resource Exhaustion,” which was not only an ode to the exploit method, which is always a threat at events this size, but also a signal that climate change would be the other major topic discussed, besides security. For the first time ever, they calculated how much greenhouse gas was emitted by the technology used during those four days. Their estimate showed that around 11K kg of CO2 was emitted.

resource exhaustion

There were more than 300 WLAN hotspots, and 44.1 GBit/s of lines to the outside were used. Mostly everyone uses a DECT phone while at the conference and there were 67 antennas, with more than 300,000 processed calls.

330 lectures were recorded, translated and uploaded mere hours after the live event, with video team setting up 214 cameras, 145 video recorders and 73 audio recorders. And this is another thing that makes the Congress so special: they put the emphasis on networking, meeting the people from your community. Missing a lecture isn’t the end of the world, chances are you’ll all be in your rooms that same night, listening to that same lecture.

With activists protecting for climate change at the Congress, and numerous murals showcasing the carbon footprint of data and technology, this wasn’t just an event where you could learn a cool new hack. This was also a place to examine where we are right now, to look critically at the knowledge and technology we have in our own hands and feel societal changes as they happen.

Final words

This was the second year SecurityTrails attended the Chaos Communication Congress, and without sounding too cliché, it won’t be our last. Visiting hacker conferences all around the world gives us the opportunity to hang out with people from the community, share ideas and exchange knowledge. And with so many cybersecurity conferences happening each year, we can surely say that the Congress has something special about it, whether it’s the people, human-driven attitude, freedom of expression or that timeless European appeal.

If you’re still wondering whether you should attend the 37th edition of the Congress, don’t give it another thought, just do it. And don’t forget to tune in for our 5 best talks from 36C3!


We hope you got the chance to grab some SecurityTrails stickers, either by meeting with us or grabbing them from the ticket exchange stations! If not, please catch up with us at other cybersecurity conferences — we’ll be sure to notify you.