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Tuesday, 04 September 2012 09:23

Hackers, IT security professionals join forces for Midwest conference

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GRAND RAPIDS — In late September, computer hackers and the IT security professionals who cross digital swords with them will meet at DeVos Place to share the latest cyber attacks and defenses.

Upwards of 1,000 people are expected to attend the second annual GrrCON (pronounced “Grrrr Con”) Midwest Information Security & Hacker conference, which is scheduled for Sept. 27-28. Three separate training tracks provide dedicated technical and leadership disciplines in a venue that co-founder Christopher Payne said allows participants to “share ideas, information, solutions, forge relationships and most importantly engage with like-minded people in a fun atmosphere.” The fun includes free beer and food, plus an after party at the end of day one.

“We wanted to give the Midwest region a security conference in its own backyard,” said Payne, a security architect at Spectrum Health. “You don’t have to fly to Las Vegas or other places to get the latest updates on what’s happening in IT security. We also wanted to do something to give the region a positive publicity spin.”

The event features more than 50 speakers, most from outside West Michigan, and some from outside the United States. GrrCON — which falls during three-week-long Art Prize competition — should leave first-time visitors to Grand Rapids with a positive impression, Payne said.

“It will get them exposed to Grand Rapids,” Payne said. “It also lets local folks network with the rock stars of our industry. We’ll have black hats, to law enforcement professionals to everything in between.“

Black hats are professional hackers who get paid for penetrating private and government computer networks to steal intellectual property, financial information and much more.

Payne, who said he has attended many IT security conferences around the country, borrowed the best of what he found elsewhere to provide the most value for conference attendees.

Also on hand will be more than three-dozen exhibitors, a who’s who of some of the top IT security companies not only in the Midwest, but also nationally. Well known IT security vendors include Palo Alto Networks, Symantec, HP Enterprise Security, Sophos, Websense and Cisco, to name a few. Payne said all the exhibitors will give attendees the chance to check out the latest cyber security hardware and software products.

“We also have about 10 Michigan companies exhibiting,” said co-founder Jeff Bleich, GrrCON’s event organizer and sponsorship director. Bleich works for Payne at Spectrum Health.

He described recruiting these exhibitors as a pretty easy sell.

“They see value in conferences, particularly when we target the Midwest,” Bleich said. “National vendors want to gain presence in our area. The easiest way to do that is to get a booth and market to the people who attend.”

Steve Lassig, who now is the cloud and managed services manager for Troy-based Creative Breakthroughs Inc., exhibited at last year’s GrrCON while working for a German IT security and consulting firm called Applied Security. Creative Breakthroughs is a governance, risk compliance and security consultancy that resells security products from Symantec, Citrix and VMware.

“From a sponsor standpoint, we were able to connect with potential customers last year,” Lassig said. “We definitely got some solid leads at companies and built some great business relationships. I also rejuvenated some relationships with people I hadn’t seen in a while.”

Lassig said he also was impressed by the GrrCON program, which was responsible for attracting a large audience of people involved in IT security in some capacity or another.

“GrrCON was very successful in bringing nationally recognized speakers in on pertinent topics that were meaningful to people who attended the conference,” he said. “The last speaker at 6:30 on Friday night had more than 300 people in attendance. The speaker topics are very high level, particularly from a CIO standpoint, who needs to understand what’s happening today in business security.”

Lassig said the other thing that brought him back to this year’s GrrCON were comments he heard on the show floor.

“Everyone I talked to was looking forward to coming back this year,” he said. “What’s more, a lot of people that don’t come to downtown Grand Rapids very often were blown away by the conference center and the facilities downtown as well. It was a great show for us.”

For more information, visit the conference’s website,

Mike Brennan is senior technology writer at MiBiz. His day job is editor and publisher of

Read 9146 times Last modified on Tuesday, 04 September 2012 09:28

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