My impression of BlackHat Asia 2022

BlackHat Asia 2022 took place in Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands Expo & Convention Centre on the 12th and 13th of May. Whereas this is the usual location for BlackHat Asia, it was my first time visiting this edition, as well as my first visit to the country. In this blog I will share my impression of the conference, the friends I met, and the COVID situation at hand.

A group picture of the Arsenal presenters

Table of contents

My general overview

The conference’s organisation was splendid, in all aspects. I found myself spending most of my time at the Arsenal, where numerous interesting projects were shown. The Arsenal’s organisation, more specifically Rachid Harrando and Lisa Hatley-Nasr, really outdid themselves once again.

The business hall was organised in a grid-like manner, making it easy to navigate. The broad pathways in-between the booths made it easy to maintain a safe distance from other attendees. The quality of the lunch was beyond what I had imagined, especially compared to the airplane meal on the way home.

The first day’s lunch with salmon, lasagna, sweet carrots, broccoli, and rice

Much like my visit to BlackHat Europe 2021, the folks at the booths were friendly and open for a conversation. I did not encounter pushy behaviour from vendors here, nor in Europe’s edition, which is something I appreciate very much.

My presentations about my Mobile Malware Mimicking Framework (or m3 in short) were on both days of the conference. My slides can be found here. There were interesting questions from the audience, both during and after the presentation. The demo, showing the interaction between the emulation framework and two original command & control panels for well known Android banking malware families, caught the attention from many. It provides an insight into the possible activities from an attacker’s point of view, while also showing how m3 mimics bot behaviour.

A picture taken just before my first Arsenal presentation. Image courtesy of Rachid Harrando.

The city’s skyline is impressive to view, which is why I was happy my hotel room was on the 39th floor! The view I had when I woke up made me feel as if it were a dream. Whether day or night, the skyline was beautiful to look at, and I spent several hours over the four days I was in Singapore simply watching the view from my room.

The view from my hotel room on the 39th floor
The 39th floor hotel room view at sunrise

During my touristic visits, I took several pictures of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, and the area around it. The way the hotel looks like a boat, carried by three “pillars”, with a clear blue sky around it, makes one think about an actual boat in the ocean.

The “boat” is carried by the three pillars
The view around the expo centre

Being used to the European (and more specifically Dutch) climate, the humid tropical heat of Singapore was quite the change. Walking around during night time, when the scorching sun was absent, made it more bearable, and allowed me to picture the city at night.

The walking bridge towards the expo centre at night time
The “flying boat” at night
The expo centre at night

Meeting friends old and new

The two days prior to the conference, I took some time off and visited several places in Singapore, as this was my first trip to the country. An old colleague, Sophia, showed me around, and we had dinner with a couple of her friends at the East Coast Lagoon’s food hawker court. The food was delicious, but I had a tough time adjusting to the level of spiciness, in contrast with the European food I am used to.

Due to my jetlagg, my lunch and dinner time differed from the local time. Additionally, there is a break in the afternoon in Singapore. During my first day, I tried to get some local food during this exact break, which I did not succeed in. Instead, I opted for a quick lunch at McDonalds. Unbeknownst to me, this provided me with quite the surprise, as the served sauce with French fries was not ketchup, but rather hot chili sauce. After downing my water bottle at once, the scorched feeling subdued a bit, and I figured this would make a good story later on.

The ketchup looking sauce is not ketchup, but rather hot chili!

During my visit to the Gardens By The Bay, I enjoyed the serenity of the park. I encountered a rock which (with some imagination) looks like a giant bunny, although I did not check if this was intended.

While at the conference, I saw Ryan Johnson, whom I had met at atHack in November 2021. We did not connect back then, as I did not have LinkedIn at the time, and he does not have Twitter. The industry surely is a small world after all.

While at the Arsenal’s location, I helped Vishal Thakur as his HDMI to USB-C adapter had gone missing. The day after, the three of us had lunch while we shared our experience of the conference. One of my presentations was directly after the lunch, forcing me to lunch timely. As such, I had to bail halfway through Christopher Morales‘s demo. After mentioning this to him, he was kind enough to share his slides via a chat message afterwards.

In evening of the first conference day, I met up with Xiaomayi, who is an admin of several of my Telegram groups. We had not met in real life prior to this, and we had a great time chatting just outside the Marina Bay Sands Expo & Convention Centre. After she left, a water and light show started, as can be seen on the picture below. The show’s experience was mesmerising, especially with the beautiful skyline in the background.

The light is projected on the water vapour particles, based on the music that was played at the time

The afternoon and evening of the second day of the conference was something I did not plan anything for. I met up with Lavakumar Kuppan and Sukesh (who presented their Node Security Shield at the Arsenal) by chance, as I was sitting on a bench within the centre. We chatted for a while, and I showed them the inner workings of m3 upon their request. At last, we went for dinner at So Pho inside the centre, which is where I ate the evening prior as well. Since I had to catch my flight in the late evening, I had to leave directly after the dinner to go to the airport, whereas I’d have like to stay a little while longer.

It was a pleasure to meet everybody, I have very fond memories of the brief week, and I hope to return in 2023!

COVID measures

Contrary to The Netherlands, Singapore has a lot of restrictions still in place. Masks need to be worn at all times when in public places, such as the public transport, shops, and the conference centre. Masks were allowed to be taken off when eating and drinking. Overall, the rules were followed nearly perfectly, based on my own observations.

Additionally, the TraceTogether application had to be scanned at places where more than 500 people gathered, meaning it was required to enter. In my experience, people kept and respected a safe distance whenever possible. Everything combined, I felt comfortable and safe during my stay.

To contact me, you can e-mail me at [info][at][maxkersten][dot][nl], send me a PM on Reddit, or DM me on Twitter @Libranalysis.