I am a hacker. I get hired by companies to break into their systems, a job commonly referred to as pentesting. I’m a “good guy” hacker. My definition of “good guy” versus “bad guy” is that good guys only hack with permission and they get paid less. ;-)
I LOVE my job! Often times I have to force myself to stop working in order to do other more important things like spend time with my family or eat food. Even when I’m not working, I am thinking about work because it is so interesting.
My kids can even recognize that glazed look in my eyes when they are trying to tell me something and will ask “Are you thinking about work?” The other day I asked my six-year-old why she hadn’t done what I asked her to. Her reply? “Sorry, I was thinking about work.”
I didn’t start out as a hacker by profession. I spent 10 years as a Mechanical Engineer designing automation equipment. My company started downsizing on Mechanical Engineers and hiring Computer Science majors, so I went back to school in order to diversify my skillset.
I enjoyed Computer Science as much as I had enjoyed Mechanical Engineering.
I first learned about “pentesting” when my code failed a security audit. I was surprised that I hadn’t been taught anything about these issues in school. I felt shocked, horrified, vulnerable, intrigued, and more. So I resolved that I could not be a good developer until I knew how to develop secure code.
I took some secure coding classes and enjoyed it so much that I pursued a degree from the SANS Institute in Information Security Engineering. During those studies, I determined that being a pentester was the ideal job for me. As I was nearing the completion of my degree, I reached out to a well-known security expert within the company I worked for at the time and asked him about pursuing this new dream.
I told him of my work experience and my soon-to-be-completed schooling. His response was something to the effect of, “Pentesting is an extremely competitive field and unless [you are super woman] it’s probably not going to happen.”
Well, here is what I thought of his advice.
I rolled my eyes at that response and was a little discouraged, but it was just the challenge I needed to fuel my competitive nature and succeed.
As I look back, I realize that hacking has always been in my blood. As a teenager, I attended youth camps, and these were always filled with pranks. But I didn’t settle for simply freezing underwear or remote controlling mechanical mice. No, my pranks typically included an added element of torture, a “hacker’s twist,” if you will.
One night, I snuck into the leaders’ cabin and left notes written in permanent marker on each of their pillows. The notes said, “We could have drawn a mustache on your face.” I thought this was an ideal prank because each leader would be freaked out the rest of the week knowing someone had been by their bedside and knowing we might come back. Besides that, I didn’t have to actually draw on them with a permanent marker.
So, for the rest of the week, I got to enjoy overhearing the leaders talk about how freaked out they were. They tied strings across the doorway at night with bells attached to alert of an attack.
Ultimately, I decided to conspire with all the other leaders except the director. I asked them to stay up later than the director, and, after she had gone to sleep, let me draw mustaches on their faces with black eye liner. I instructed them not to say anything about it in the morning until the director pointed out that they had a mustache and then to exclaim, “Oh my Gosh, you have one too!!!”
They performed perfectly. The director started hootin’ and hollerin’ and ran out of the cabin with a bandana tied over her face to hide the supposed mustache. I was hiding in the bushes watching as she went over to the large mirror on the tree, pulled off the bandana, and stood in shocked silence as she processed all that had just happened. We all got a big kick out the prank, even the director . . . eventually.
So, who started me down this path of trickery? It was my dad. As a young girl, I decided I was afraid of my 3-foot-tall plastic doll that could stand by herself. In order to get me to sleep, my dad tied her up with a rope and put her in the corner of the room. I kept a sharp eye on her until I eventually fell asleep. I woke in the morning to the doll right next to my bed with her hand out of the rope and up in the air. That was the fastest run I ever made to my parents’ bedroom. My dad’s laugh gave it away. We all got a big kick out of that prank . . . eventually.
Do you like doing pranks, or do you eventually forgive those who do them to you and laugh about it? Then maybe this is the job for you.
Don’t be discouraged if you have started down another career path. It’s not too late. You don’t have to be super woman to get started, either. There is a high demand for this type of work, and it keeps growing. If you are willing to work at it, you can make it.
About the Author: Carrie Roberts is a Security Analyst at Black Hills Information Security (BHIS), and regularly posts to the BHIS blog at http://www.blackhillsinfosec.com/?page_id=2156. You can also follow Carrie (@
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this guest author article are solely those of the contributor, and do not necessarily reflect those of Tripwire, Inc.