Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A trip down cyber memory lane, or from C64 to #FF0000 teaming

By Ian Amit @iiamit

So, it's National Cyber Security Awareness Month, and here at IOActive we have been lining up some great content for you. Before we get to that, I was asked to put in a short post with some background on how I got to info sec, and what has been keeping me here for almost 20 years now.

Brace yourselves for a trip down memory lane then :-). For me getting into security didn't start with a particular event or decision. I've always been intrigued by how things worked, and I used to take things apart, and sometimes also put them back together. Playing with Meccano, Lego, assorted electrical contraptions, radios, etc. Things got a bit more serious when I was about 6 or 7 when somehow I managed to convince my parents to get me one of those newfangled computers. It was a Commodore 64 (we were late adopters at the Amit residence), but the upside is I had a real floppy drive rather than a tape cassette ;-)

That has been my introduction to programming (and hacking). After going through all the available literature I could get my hands on in Hebrew, I switched over to the English one (having to learn the language as I went along), and did a lot of basic programming (yes, BASIC programming). That's also when I started to deal with basic software protection mechanisms.

Things got more real later on in my PC days, when I was getting back to programming after a long hiatus, and I managed to pick this small project called Linux and tried to get it working on my PC. Later I realized that familiarity with kernel module development and debugging was worth something in the real world in the form of security.

Ever since then, I find myself in a constant learning curve, always running into new technologies and new areas of interest that tangent information security. It's what has been keeping my ADD satisfied, as I ventured into risk, international law, finances, economic research, psychology, hardware, physical security and other areas that I'm probably forgetting in the edits to this post (have I mentioned ADD?).

I find it hard to define "what I like to research" as my interest range keeps expanding and venturing into different areas. Once it was a deep dive into Voice over IP and how it can be abused to exfiltrate data, another time it was exploring the business side of cyber-crime and how things worked there from an "economy" perspective, other times it was purely defense based when I was trying to switch seats and was dealing with a large customer who needed to up their defenses properly. It even got weird at some point where I was dealing with the legal international implications of conflict in the 5th domain when working with NATO on some new advisories and guidance (law is FUN, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise!). 

I guess that for me it's the mixture of technical and non-technical elements and how these apply in the real world… It kind of goes back to my alma-mater (The Interdisciplinary Center) where I had a chance to hone some of these research skills.

As for advice on to how to become a pentester/researcher/practitioner of information security? Well, that's a tough one. I'd say that you would need to have the basics, which for me has always been an academic degree. Any kind of degree. I know that a lot of people feel they are not "learning" anything new in the university because they already mastered Ruby, Python, C++ or whatever. That's not the point. For me the academia gave tools rather than actual material (yes, I also breezed through the programming portions of college). But that wouldn't be enough. You'd need something more than just skills to stay in the industry. A keen eye for details, an inquisitive mind, at times I'd call it cunning, to explore things that are out of boundaries. And sometimes a bit of moxie (Chutzpa as it's called in Hebrew) to try things that you aren't completely allowed to. But safely of course ;-)

Hope this makes sense, and maybe sheds some light on what got me here, and what keeps driving me ahead. Have a safe and enjoyable "Cyber" month! :-)

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