A Decision to Cancel

A Decision to Cancel

By Michael Pinchera

As From the Mouth of Chaos came together, it was clear that my planned inclusion of the following event cancellation due to Trumps immigration ban was no longer a match. There was concern it would come off too negative as a standalone piece, but its good stuff, nonetheless, so here it is.

Four days after U.S. President Donald Trump’s Executive Order 13769 was signed, Per Thorsheim cancelled PasswordsCon—“the first and only conference all about passwords”—an information security (infosec) event that he has organized since launching it in Norway in 2010.

“My belief in democracy & the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights takes priority over my work, hobby & general obsession into passwords and digital authentication,” Thorsheim explained in a statement shared online.

On the phone, he said that he knows good people in the infosec and academic research communities that would be unable to attend PasswordsCon in Las Vegas under the executive order solely due to the soil on which they were born. And messages he’s received from the infosec and academic communities relating to his reason for cancelling PasswordsCon have been nothing but positive.

“I’m just standing up for what I believe in. It’s good to be able to prove that I have a spine,” he says with a laugh. “That’s very important in this industry.”

PasswordsCon, which drew up to 200 participants to its Las Vegas edition last year, had been scheduled for July 25-26 at the Tuscany Suites & Casino as a two-day track within larger infosec conference BSidesLV. These events were scheduled to take place immediately prior to a pair of major infosec gatherings in Las Vegas: Black Hat and DEF CON.

Thorsheim briefly considered moving this summer’s PasswordsCon to Canada or Mexico, but some of his infosec colleagues already in the U.S. offered assistance and, with his blessing, have added a password-specific track to the BSidesLV schedule, branded “Ground1234!”

“I wouldn’t want to do anything that would hurt BSides—they’re friends of mine,” Thorsheim says.

Inevitably, PasswordsCon will return to the U.S., if and when the travel ban is lifted or expires. And Thorsheim is not concerned about potential backlash when he next travels to the U.S.

“People from the U.S. government attend [PasswordsCon] to learn about cryptography. I have no problem with them,” he says. “I’m not into trying to interfere in politics…but I don’t have to go to the U.S. with my conference, and if they’re blocking people just because of their country of origin…then I’ll go to another country.”

The twice-yearly event will next take place next in December in the European Union—the precise location has not yet been finalized.

He does lament the thought of such events excluding, by travel ban necessity, certain foreign participants: “We’re stronger as a global community.”

Lessons from the cancellation of PasswordsCon:
·      If you have to make a moral stand and cancelling your event is personally the best choice, understand that your attendees will miss out on education as a result.
·      Consider reaching out to colleagues that may be interested in filling your void and providing similar content under a different name—especially if your event was a single track within a larger event—so those already planning to travel and attend will not be disadvantaged.