Today we continue our support for National Cyber Security Awareness Month, by interviewing Cesar Cerrudo, Chief Technology Officer for IOActive Labs. Cesar provides us with some insight of how he got into IT security and why it's important to be persistent!
IOActive: How did you get into security?
Cesar: I think my first hacks were when I was 10 years old or so. I modified BASIC code on CZ Spectrum games and also cheated games by loading different parts of the code from a cassette (yes not floppy disk at that time and loading games from a cassette took around 5-10mins and if something went wrong you have to try again, I don’t miss that at all ), but after that I was mostly away from computers until I was 19 years old and went to college.
I was always interested on learning to hack but didn't have enough resources or access to a PC. So while I was at college I started to read books, articles, etc. - anything I could get my hands on. I used to play (and sometimes break) a friend’s PC (hi Flaco ) once in a while when I had the opportunity. I remember learning Assembly language just from reading books and looking at virus code printed in papers. Finding that virus code and learning from it was amazing (not having a PC wasn’t a problem; a PC is just a tool).
Later on, with some internet access (an hour or so a week), it became easier since lots of information became available and I got access to a PC; so I started to try the things I read about and started to build my own tools, etc.
When you're learning and reading, one topic takes you to another topic and so on, but I focused on things that I was more familiar with - like web apps, database servers, Microsoft Windows, etc.
Luckily in Argentina it wasn’t illegal to hack at that time so I could try things in real life and production systems . A long time ago, I remember walking to the office of the CEO of my local ISP provider handing him hundred thousands of users, passwords and credit card information and telling him that their servers where hackable and that I hacked them. I know this sounds crazy but I was young and in the end they thank me, and I helped them identify and fix the vulnerabilities. I asked for a job but no luck, don’t know why .
I also did other crazy hacks when I was young but better to not talk about that , nothing criminal. I used to report the vulnerabilities but most admins didn’t like it. I recommend not engaging in anything illegal, as nowadays you can easily end up in jail if you try to hack a system. Today it is simpler to build a lab and play safely at home.
Luckily those crazy times ended and soon I started to find vulnerabilities in known and widely used software such as SQL Server, Oracle, Windows, etc., I was then also able to create some new attack and exploitation techniques, etc.
IOActive: What do you find most exciting about security?
Cesar: Learning new things, challenges, solving difficult problems, etc. You get to deeply study how some technologies work and can identify security problems on software/hardware massively used worldwide that sometimes have big impact on everyone's lives since everything has become digital nowadays.
IOActive: What do you like to research, and why?
Cesar: This is related to previous answers, but I like challenges, learning and hacking stuff.
IOActive: What advice would you give to someone who would like to become a pentester/researcher?
Cesar: My advice would be if you are interested in or like hacking, nothing can stop you. Everything is out there to learn. You just need to try hard and put in a lot of effort without ever giving up. Nothing is impossible it's just matter of effort and persistence.