“Pass the SALT” (PTS) is a small IT security conference in Lille, France. It has less participants than speakers at the RSA conference. I gave talks at both events. RSA is a lot more prestigious event, but I still prefer PTS. Why?
Small Is Beautiful
As you could guess from my introduction, PTS is a small event. It is run by volunteers. It is also a free event thanks to sponsors. The small size has many advantages. There are not many parallel tracks competing for your attention. There is a main track and a workshop track. No need for buzzwords, for loud marketing of talks, as most people will be there anyway. Instead of attention seeking, speakers can focus on technical content.
The focus of PTS is open source security software. Which is a nice coincidence, as I work on two open source software projects. Sudo is definitely security focused, it lets you control access to your hosts and log access. While syslog-ng is not strictly security focused, it is also often used by infosec. Commercial software and services are of course mentioned by speakers while introducing themselves, but the focus is open source.
Small also means that there is a much stronger feeling of community than at larger events. The speaker’s dinner is fantastic. Not just because of the food served, but also because you can talk to many like-minded people who are experts in their fields. There are always some old friends, but new people as well. The various breaks and the social event also gave us lots of possibilities to discuss not just security, but also Life, the Universe and Everything :-) I always feel a bit lost when there are hundreds or thousands of people around me. However, at PTS I always feel comfortable. Of course, as a strong introvert, I still regularly need some time alone. The conference is in a beautiful environment, so it is easy to take a quick walk and recharge before the next block of talks starts.
Small also means much more and much better feedback after talks. With many parallel tracks most people are running to the next talks, once your talk is over. With just one track, even if there were two more talks without a break after my talk, people came to me to discuss sudo and syslog-ng in the breaks. The latest major version of sudo, 1.9.0, incorporated many of the feedback I received at Pass the SALT in 2019. This kind of in-depth discussions with users are almost completely missing at larger events.
sudo logs for blue teamers
My talk at PTS combined the two software projects I am working on. The primary focus was on the very latest sudo features that arrived in minor versions after the 1.9.0 release. Many of these are logging related, so I also included syslog-ng and demonstrated how you can work with sudo logs in syslog-ng. Based on the feedback I received at the conference, it is much easier to work with sudo logs, or JSON logs in general using syslog-ng than with most other logging software.
Every talk was really interesting, but of course not all of them were relevant to me. Below I collected some of my favorite talks from the conference:
CryptPad is an end-to-end encrypted collaboration solution. It provides many of the features of Google and Microsoft cloud tools, but it is fully open source and data is stored encrypted securely. With something like this I’d probably trust the cloud more to store my data, now I rather store sensitive data locally…
I used containers when they were still called “FreeBSD jail” :-) So, I love the technology. Fedora is one of the pioneers of containerization on Linux. They have multiple operating systems based on a minimal read-only Fedora Linux that can be extended using containers. There are specific distributions targeting everything from IoT through desktops to servers.
sslh is something I’m planning on trying. It allows servicing SSH and HTTPS from the same port. Many places block access to port 22, or even limit access to HTTPS. Using sslh can help in this situation.
As usual, one of my favorite talks came from Xavier Mertens. One of his earlier talks inspired the in-list() function of syslog-ng. This year, he talked about Cyberchef, a tool used to decode exotic data formats. Luckily, it’s not that often that I would need anything like this, but sometimes it could come in handy when trying to figure out what is hiding in my e-mails.