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Path to the dark side

On Saturday, May 21st. The first career panel in #Misec history was held. Put on by the brave @chaoticflaws, @vajkat, and @ZenM0de, it was highly successful. The panel included @jwgoerlich, @jeremynielson, @jim_beechy, @D0Xt0rZ3r0, and a infosec recruiter from @TEKsystems (Sorry, I didn’t find his handle). It was five glorious hours of Q/A related to getting a head start in infosec and what really matters in the field. Here’s a recap of what was discussed from the panel.

Please realize that whatever I was able to scribble down does not include everything that was said. To help me try to get “the important points” I “borrowed” a few tweets from our panelists and avid listeners from the crowd (cough, cough, @TeaPartyTechie). A lot of my quoted references are paraphrased and are my adaptations of their wise words. I grabbed the tweets after the event so they’re out of order, but I tried to make it as chronological as possible. Feel free to take it with a grain of salt. Also if you’re one of the panelists and don’t like something you read, please let me know and I’ll work with you to fix it!

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Rule #1:
The golden rule was mentioned in the first question of the panel, and it was was don’t be a dick. Whether you’re talking about security exercises inside your company, hacking someone, talking to other infosec people, mentoring people… “Don’t be a d1ck” can be applied to thousands of situations. In #Misec especially, we are all here to help each other, so play nice. It can get dirty, but it’s all in good fun.


While we aren’t dicks, we do love our trolls. The first open question to start the panel was about trolling employees. How do you handle security exercises like leaving bad usb drives, phishing, and more at your job? There’s a lot of ways to run these exercises. The point is to improve the culture to increase security and not to get someone in trouble. If you’re going to troll your coworkers, do it because you want them to be safe not because you want them to get fired.

If you’re doing anything for a company, track the results. The numbers at the end of the exercise are what’s going to prove to the higher-ups that the trolls; while “mean”; were worth it.

When you’re looking for an infosec job, a degree isn’t the most important thing. Some companies will demand the traditional Computer Science degree, others are willing to see what you bring to an interview. The important part is that you can explain your position and why you should get the job using a thoughtful story. Tell an interviewer why you belong.

If you’re looking at people in the industry, and they give you advice on what to do, follow it. If you take action on what they suggest, you’ll be 1 out of 10 people who talked to that person that did something with that information -wolf.

You want to continue to grow even after your finish school or get a job. I’ve said the following in at least three other blog posts, but you really need to find a community. Once I found Misec, my infosec network literally exploded. Networking was repeatedly brought up throughout the panel. I starred it in my notes three times. It’s important to reach out to as many people as you can so you can surround yourself with successful people that have been in the same boat.

Try to find a mentor. Someone who isn’t at your current company, but someone who has done what you want to do. They’ll be able to guide you in the right direction and make sure you do need to in order to get you where you want to go. A mentor is someone who you can bounce ideas off of and will navigate you down the best path possible. Have goals and share them with your mentor.

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There was a lot of discussion around how to become an expert. Really there’s only one way to become an expert and that’s practice, practice, practice. You’ll never be perfect and there’s probably someone more knowledgable, but you can always improve.

Being a leader

There will come a time, after you’ve found your niche in the infosec world when you are more knowledgable then most. No one is going to walk up and say “Congratulations, here’s your expertise certification”. If you feel you’re an expert, then say so. Just be prepared for what that entitles, interviewers will ask you the tougher questions, people will come to you for help, and there will be higher expectations. Only you can decided when you’re ready for that kind of title.

Screen Shot 2016-05-21 at 4.31.06 PMIn regards to “technical know-how VS social, economical, political know-how”. It was pretty well decided that it was important to be technical but still be aware of your surroundings. Keep up to date on the practices related to your field. Know the products involved and the processes in place and what might be coming in the future.

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The first 90 days on the job can be the most important. A few tips were given by the panel. Wolf said to focus on competence, perception, relationships, and getting results. That’s where the Red Baron reference was applied. Jeremy mentioned doing anything and everything that was asked or offered. Even if you’re a just an admin, help out to unpack the new machines. Jim said that for the first few years, get experience, you don’t have to narrow it down as soon as you get a job. Just get some knowledge first. The idea here is to be productive, work hard to get where you want to be.

A good thing that was pointed out here during a follow up question is that everyone fails. From the interns to the rock stars. Good guys will own up to their mistakes and try to fix them. Others will try to hide them.

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Contribute back, a lot of people new to the community will think “I’m not experienced enough” or “I’m just a student” or something similar to that. I can tell you first hand just how valuable it is to contribute as a noob. I write these blog posts as I learn, so I can look back and  see how far I’ve come and so that you can learn as well. I give talks about the research I’ve done for classes or as an intern and I plan on giving a talk about what I do as a full time employee. Well, mostly what I do, (just come to the talk and find out). Get involved and give a talk, even if it’s a recap of one of your classes. You don’t have to be “all knowing” to give back. Hey, at the very least, you should start a security blog of your own 😉



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Just another reason to contribute. You’ll become more of an expert by being involved. Give back to the community, volunteer at cons, network, give talks, go to panels. I can’t stress it enough how many times this was mentioned and how invaluable it really is.

Another option to give back is to mentor. Even if you’re not the #1 person in the field, you can still try to mentor someone. Help others so others want to help you. If you’re contributing, other’s will find you. Trust me.

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People asked about what was the most overrated and underrated skills in infosec. Being the top dog, knowing a vulnerability by the first sight of an indicator, and partying hard are all things that are overrated. 80% of the value comes from the last 20% of the work. That doesn’t mean that the first 80% of the work isn’t important. Put your time in, get the research, do it right. “Partying is pretty well tied into the infosec community. It’s big at cons, but it’s not a requirement. Be safe and have fun” -Jim.

The underrated skills that were mentioned were writing reports and monitoring performance. Red team writes 2:1 compared to hacking. It’s important to be able to clearly describe the issue and suggest a technical fix to non-technical people. Monitoring performance is also really important. Going back to the trolls, if you run a phishing exercise, it’s good to show by how much the click through rate has decreased on malicious emails.

Another question was how to get kids involved in infosec. The resounding answer was “don’t”. Thanks wolf. What is really important is allowing your kids to be curious and explore what they are interested in. If the kids are really into infosec, show them the ethical side of hacking. Always try to inspire them to be the best they can be. Also, a good way to allow kids to grow into hackers is Hak4kidz.

Finally I want to finish with a list of other points that I know are important but I can’t remember where in the Q/A they belong. Probably because they were important and were repeated 3-4 times. Hope you like them:

  • Be comfortable being uncomfortable (we’re all uncomfortable)
  • Build relationships <3 NETWORK!
  • Join Misec! (or your local infosec group)

Thanks to TEKsystems for hosting us for the event. Thanks to all the panelists that joined us, Thanks to @chaoticflaws, @vajkat, and @ZenM0de for planning all of this. It was really a great event and I learned a lot. Oh! and I won a RTFM in a raffle, it’s a great resource.


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