Risk
9/30/2013
07:04 PM
Vincent Liu
Vincent Liu
Commentary
50%
50%

Pen Testing: Making Passion A Priority

What sets real penetration testers apart is their motivation and willingness to lose themselves in something they love

Last week, one of the partners in my firm (Bishop Fox) said something that rang true: "If you want to be a real penetration tester, you have to live it."

In a similar vein, Paul Graham says, "To do something well, you have to love it. So to the extent you can preserve hacking as something you love, you're likely to do it well. Try to keep the sense of wonder you had about programming at age 14. If you're worried that your current job is rotting your brain, it probably is."

A real hacker doesn't see what he does as just a job or as just a hobby -- he sees it as a lifestyle. No border exists between work and play, the line between the two made indistinguishable by countless cans of late-night Red Bull.

We've talked about how some pen testers will use checklists and methodologies when performing scans or doing their testing. These can be useful, but a real pen tester sees them as a baseline against which they begin to explore, like a jazz musician improvising a new and better tune. This experimentation allows a hacker to gain more knowledge and experience than any textbook can provide. In fact, this is where the argument arises about the overlearned not having the right, open mindset needed to pen test. Too much structure can inhibit the dynamic nature of true penetration testing. Having all of the knowledge in the world matters only if you also know how to apply it. Reading may get you far, but there's no better teacher than real-world experience.

In his piece on "Great Hackers," Paul Graham says, "I know a handful of super-hackers ... Their defining quality is probably that they really love to program. Ordinary programmers write code to pay the bills. Great hackers think of it as something they do for fun, and which they're delighted to find people will pay them for." Now, Graham uses the term "hacker" to describe individuals with a passion for working on code, etc., but his observation rings true for penetration testers as well.

What sets real penetration testers apart is their motivation and willingness to lose themselves in something they love. Not just in hacking, but this applies to expertise in other fields, as well. From video games to photography, martial arts to musical instruments -- it's the ability to throw yourself into something entirely, no matter for work or play, which will take you to the next level.

When your girlfriend teases you that you've been ignoring her calls and texts for the past day, when you look out your window and realize the sun is coming up and you've hacked all night, when you suddenly remember you haven't eaten yet, or you let the pizza burn in the oven because you're finally hitting your stride in exploits -- that's when you know passion has taken over.

That it's no longer what you do, but who you are. Vincent Liu (CISSP) is a Managing Partner at Stach & Liu, a security consulting firm providing services to the Fortune 500, global financial institutions, and high-tech startups. In this role, he oversees firm strategy, practice development, and client matters. Vincent is ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Cartoon
Current Issue
Flash Poll
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2014-9688
Published: 2015-03-05
Unspecified vulnerability in the Ninja Forms plugin before 2.8.10 for WordPress has unknown impact and remote attack vectors related to admin users.

CVE-2015-2214
Published: 2015-03-05
NetCat 5.01 and earlier allows remote attackers to obtain the installation path via the redirect_url parameter to netshop/post.php.

CVE-2015-2215
Published: 2015-03-05
Open redirect vulnerability in the Services single sign-on server helper (services_sso_server_helper) module for Drupal allows remote attackers to redirect users to arbitrary web sites and conduct phishing attacks via unspecified parameters.

CVE-2015-2216
Published: 2015-03-05
SQL injection vulnerability in ecomm-sizes.php in the Photocrati theme 4.x for WordPress allows remote attackers to execute arbitrary SQL commands via the prod_id parameter.

CVE-2015-2218
Published: 2015-03-05
Multiple cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerabilities in the wp_ajax_save_item function in wonderpluginaudio.php in the WonderPlugin Audio Player plugin before 2.1 for WordPress allow remote attackers to inject arbitrary web script or HTML via the (1) item[name] or (2) item[customcss] parameter in a w...

Dark Reading Radio
Archived Dark Reading Radio
How can security professionals better engage with their peers, both in person and online? In this Dark Reading Radio show, we will talk to leaders at some of the security industry’s professional organizations about how security pros can get more involved – with their colleagues in the same industry, with their peers in other industries, and with the IT security community as a whole.