Category: Interview

Information Security D-List Interview: Ben Jackson

benToday’s interview is with the Defender of the Commonwealth, ham radio twit, and surly security guy – Ben Jackson.

Q: Tell us a little about yourself.

I’ve always referred to myself as “just another geek from Boston” as we seem to have our fair share up here. I’ve lived in Massachusetts for all my life, the first 25 or so years in Lynn, about 20 miles north of Boston, and now in New Bedford, about an hour and a half south. My family bought our first computer in 1991 when I was 11 and I have been addicted since. When my family went online in late 1994 on this then brand-spanking new thing called the “Internet” and it’s been a downward spiral ever since.

Currently I work for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as a Senior Information Security Engineer. Laugh all you want about Government jobs, I’m lucky to work with a talented group of people and it still gives me the warm fuzzies to work in the public sector.

Q: How did you get interested in information security?

I think I can trace my beginnings with security when I was in college. First, my college had a fairly… permissive firewall ruleset on the Academic network and if you were running a Linux server on the network you got a lot of attention from folks all over the world. If you didn’t quickly learn how to secure your computer, you would soon have a lot of extra accounts. Second, at my co-op job, I was tasked with evaluating, installing, and maintaining the new centralized AV server. This caused me to start looking at BUGTRAQ and Full-Disclosure. Finally, my senior year the computer science college at my University started running a twice-yearly CTF competition and I dominated both contests. This kind of made me realize that I might have a knack for this.

Q: What is your educational background (e.g. formal schooling, certifications, self-learning, etc.) and did it add value to your information security career?

I have a BS in Computer Engineering Technology from Northeastern University (Go Huskies!) and I hold GCIH and GIAC Silver certifications form SANS. A Professor at college said that in the computer field, all a College degree means is that you are willing to work at something for 5 years. I really didn’t learn much from classes in college regarding InfoSec but it did provide a lot of opportunities via my co-op assignments and extra-curricular activities. The SANS certifications were good and I recommend them. They were an excellent mix of hands-on and textbook. Getting the certifications were a two-birds-with-one-stone kind of deal for me, as not only did they show to others that I knew what I was talking about, they also proved to me that “Hey! I do know that stuff fairly well!”

Q: Do you find it difficult to “sell” information security in the public sector? What are some of the biggest barriers you encounter?

Thankfully, No. I was lucky. I came on board with my group when the new Administration came in and they took information security seriously. I am pleasantly surprised as to how many of the groups are “drinking the Kool Aid”, working with us, and baking security into their processes.

Q: What did you want to be when you grew up? Would you rather be doing that?

Easy question: I always wanted to be a firefighter. While I think that my current job has similarities, there is a slight difference between racing into a burning building and fighting a virus outbreak. I guess this is why they have a sweeter ride.

Would I rather be doing that? I guess I can call it my fall back career for another year as I think the application cut off is at 30 years old, but I don’t think they’d want someone who doesn’t enjoy heights.

Q: What projects (if any) are you working on right now?

My free time for projects took a dip 8 months ago when my wife forked our child process. I still try to find free time to muck about with fun toys. I maintain an Amateur Radio version of the Security Twits list called “Ham Twits”. I’m also in the process of trying to take some projects that have been on the back burner for far too long and breathe some life into them such as a simple windows based forensics tool.

Q: What is your favorite security conference (and why)?

DEFCON. I made it out to Las Vegas a couple times for DC12 adn DC13 and I always miss going when it rolls around. I feel it a really good mix of infosec, a social weekend, and booze.

Q: What do you like to do when you’re not “doing security”?

I am a new daddy so I’ve been slowly figuring out that role over the past year and loving every moment of it. I also am fairly active in amateur radio and enjoy a good book. Another strange hobby of mine is mess around on the telephone and calling numbers just to see what happens.

Q: What area of information security would you say is your strongest?

I’m pretty good at web application penetration testing and interpreting network traffic.

Q: What about your weakest?

Everything else? One thing I really wish I was better in is finding vulnerabilities exploits in applications that aren’t web based. SQL injection and XSS are cool, but there always seems to be some kind of heavy magic in work with shellcode and buffer overflows.

Q: What advice can you give to people who want to get into the information security field?

Learn how to write and how to explain yourself. 90% of your job in information security is to convince people your right. If you can pull this off, you’re going to save yourself hours of headaches.

Q: Are you at all worried about what the state of security will be when your son starts getting “online”?

Yes and No. I worry more about trying to walk the fine line of letting him get online and not having him shoot himself in the foot (or worse, shoot me in the foot) in the process. How do you teach a youngin’ about not clicking suspicious links, disabling Flash, or mitigating the latest 0 day? Should I start working “adjusting AdBlock and NoScript settings” between ABCs and sandbox time?

Q: How can people get a hold of you (e.g. blog, twitter, etc.)

I have a blog at and am active on Twitter on @innismir. There you can find me pontificating about InfoSec, Amateur Radio, and whatever else floats through my head. Also, just to be different from everyone else who may answer this, you can also find me on the 146.775MHz West Bridgewater, MA repeater every morning when I commute.

Information Security D-List Interview: Wim Remes

wimToday we interview Wim Remes from the land of chocolate, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and beer with fruit in it. That’s right, Belgium.

Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I am a 33 year old Joe Average from Belgium. I live in Hoboken (yeah, I know there is a Hoboken in New Jersey too. I live in the real one.) near Antwerp with my wife and three kids. I have worked in IT for 12 years now and have been focusing on security for about 7 years. I’ve worked as a helpdesk operator, IT admin and consulted managers on information security management. I think this mix is what makes me understand all levels when it concerns information security: from the users who want to get their job done, over the geek who salivates over every new technology he can throw into the mix upto the CEO who’s only concerned about the numbers.

Q: How did you get interested in information security?

If I look back far enough there is this moment when my dad bought our first 486 (it had this fancy Hercules monitor). It only took me a few days to find out how to set a password on the main menu. My father went ballistic because he shelled out a lot of cash for that computer and now I was the only one who could use it. It simmered for quite a while and I didn’t actually go further in the security part of computers. When I worked for a big American company in ’99, we were involved in the whole Y2K mitigation process and I got in touch with some awesome security people in the UK and the US. I took that knowledge to my next customer and started to build up a lot of network security knowledge and in the end I became the security guy at my employer (a consulting company).

Q: What is your educational background?

I only hold a high-school degree in IT, which accounts for basically nothing. When I started I was a field engineer, but I vowed to myself to never stop learning. Since then I did a lot of studying on my own, whatever subject interested me. I actually tried to get my university degree through evening school but at that moment (working as a sysadmin) I couldn’t see the value of all the theoretical stuff I was learning. I think I’ve always looked at knowledge I can translate to or use in whatever I am doing at a particular point in time. I have however (with the necessary pressure applied) obtained several “professional” certificates. I think, from a hiring perspective, some of my employers might have judged me partially on the certificates on my resumé. I personally feel that my time in the trenches has contributed more than whatever combination of multi-coloured pins I can sting you with.

Q: What did you want to be when you grew up ? Would you rather be doing that?

I have had several dreams about what I wanted to be. Among those were being black (I was 16 and listening to gangster rap), being Asian (17, and them girls were cute !) and being rich (18 and I wanted my second hand motorcycle to be a Harley Davidson). what I really wanted to do was writing but I am not a prodigy in that department. Sure, I would love to spend my time behind a dusty typewriter and publish books and win prizes. At the point in my career where I am now, I wouldn’t trade this profession for anything in the world. I don’t think there’s anything I’d rather do right now, but never say never.

Q: What is your favorite security conference (and why)?

I have two. Accidentally those are the only two real cons I’ve attended 🙂 First there is Brucon ( which was organized for the first time in September of 2009. It is close to my heart because I volunteered there and the atmosphere we created was really special. The second one I attended in November 2009, as a speaker, was Excaliburcon. Firstly, because it was in China and I have a strong bond with that country and secondly because I was a speaker there and attending a conference in that way is a completely different experience. I met the most awesome people and came back totally charged.

Q: Did you notice any differences between the European and Chinese hunger for security knowledge whilst at Excaliburcon? What is your impression of the information security industry in Asia?

Yes, absolutely. In Europe you see an absolute hunger for knowledge, apart from the very high quality conferences like, CCC, Brucon, etc. there is a growing hackerspace scene. People are getting together and share knowledge. There is not a real teacher/student hierarchy and everybody pushes everybody forward. It’s pretty amazing actually. The same information sharing attitude is entering the corporate world as well. In China, the hunger is there absolutely but while I feel that you learn the most by discussing and juxtaposing opinions, this is not part of the Chinese culture yet.

The “teacher” enjoys a privileged position in China, students respect him/her and are not expected to question his material. When we were at Excaliburcon though, we felt that this also is changing. I had awesome discussions with several attendees and speakers. It was actually one of the goals for which we were there and I think in future editions this will shine through even more.

Q: What do you like when you’re not “doing security”?

That’s a difficult question for me. Between my job, the Eurotrash podcast, some blogging (very low profile right now) and studying all the time I try to be a decent dad and husband. I love to go out for a good meal and some entertainment and play volleyball occassionally. That’s about it.

Q: Tell us a little bit about the Eurotrash podcast.

I got my first taste of podcasting while doing the Brucon podcast, which I did together with @security4all. It was fun interviewing the speakers so I wanted to do more. At Brucon I met @daleapearson, @chrisjohnriley and @craigbalding and we kinda agreed on one thing : While there is some high quality infosec podcasts out there, there wasn’t one that focused on Europe. The reason we believed we needed one is twofold :

We have some pretty amazing talent in the infosec scene that rarely steps into the limelight and the way information security is handled here is very different. It went very quickly from there, Mirko Zorz (@helpnetsecurity) designed our logo, @xme was kind enough to host our content and our guestlists filled up nicely. Until now we did four episodes, including interviews with Didier Stevens and Mokum von Amsterdam (I’m not sure whether I can use his real name …) and a joined episode with the guys from Exotic Liability which was a blast to make. I think in 2010 we might get better at podcasting so people should consider sitting through a few more “average” episodes.

If not for us then maybe for our funny accents?

Q: What area of information security would you say is your strongest?

I see myself as pretty versatile. I focus a lot on Identity and Access Management these days and I have a passion for log management, intrusion detection and security incident and event management. I think I’m pretty good at incident handling and network security too.

Q: What about your weakest?

I sometimes wish i was more of a coder and could be able to find my own vulnerabilities in applications. Because that would make me a rockstar. But I hate coding with a vengeance. I hold my own on application security but I feel I have to spend more time on the subject to really ace it. Compliance is something I try to stay away from as much as possible.

Q: What advice can you give people who want to get into the information security field?

Engage in your local community. ISSA, ISACA, Defcon chapters. There’s plenty of awesome people there. Just talking to them will give you a lot of food for thought. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t look at cons at the ultimate place to learn. Most learning will happen on your own, fueled by the ideas you get from others. And last but not least, don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. you have to dig deep to find the awesome stuff.

Q: How can people get hold of you?
Blog: (my blog is pretty dead right now, I hope to find some time in 2010 to blog more)
Phone: +32497597454

Information Security D-List Interview: Jack Daniel

jackOften mistaken for an angry and embittered former member of ZZ Top, Jack Daniel is one of the most recognized faces in the Information Security industry. In honor of his 50th birthday to, we’re posting his D-List Interview today.

Q: Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m just some old dude who hasn’t grown up and somehow ended up in security. I like to build stuff, and fix stuff. Breaking stuff is fun, too- but I find building and fixing things more fun and more satisfying. I have pretty good diagnostics and troubleshooting skills, which is pretty handy for someone who likes to fix things (dramatically improves the success ratio). I also have pretty good BS detection skills, and don’t have much fear of calling people on things. And you can always ask Google about me, but some other dude hogs all the search results for my name.

Q: How did you get interested in information security?

I got “into” Information Security the same way I got into IT, management, and many other things: it started because no one else would do it. Thing were broken and no one else would fix them. Then things were compromised and no one else would fix them or prevent a recurrence. Then, being deranged as I am, I found I enjoy the challenges of InfoSec, and *some* of the people in the field.

Q: What is your educational background (e.g. formal schooling, certifications, self-learning, etc.) and did it add value to your information security career?

I’m a college drop out. Life interfered, and besides, there’s too much to learn for me waste time in school (apologies to your current employer). Certs? utbCCNA (utb=used to be), MCSE/MCSE+I oros (oros=on really old stuff, as in NT). I have a CISSP to rub in peoples faces when needed. I generally refer to myself as a “reluctant CISSP”, a distinction I believe many CISSPs share.

I think the certs have helped at the time I got them, but I actually used the training and testing process as a way to learn, not just put letter after my name. Even at my age, my lack of a college degree is occasionally a stumbling block, but that’s life- there are always stumbling blocks.

Q: What did you want to be when you grew up? Would you rather be doing that?

I wanted to be a marine biologist, then a marine geologist, then I met some of them. So, no, I don’t think I would prefer those careers.

Q: What projects (if any) are you working on right now?

We’re remodeling the house, room by room, currently on the kitchen. Oh, you meant in InfoSec…

The most interesting things I’m working on are in the security community. I have been an active member of NAISG since the beginning, and am on the board of directors. NAISG is an approachable security group with chapters around the US and one overseas, and I’m trying to help the group and chapters grow. I am also working on building the Security B-Sides events, helping grow these alternative events and offer venues for topics which should be getting more exposure.

Q: What does NAISG offer that other security organizations don’t? Is it US-centric or can it flourish within other countries?

NAISG is open to anyone with an interest in security, and is notable for what isn’t, and what it doesn’t have, No cost, no prerequisites to participate, no “old boys club” nonsense, no need to drop zero day to join, and no sales pitches for presentations. Members range from small business admins, to students, to security professionals- and anyone else interested. NAISG has evolved from a local user group into an organization with chapters across the US and now one in Bangalore, India. I believe NAISG is a good fit where security information isn’t getting to people who need it. We also provide a framework and web infrastructure to ease chapter creation for those interested. more info is on our site at

Q: What is your favorite security conference (and why)?

That’s impossible, I go to many and like some things about all of them. I love Shmoocon, because it is Shmoocon, an ever-so-slightly grown-up hacker con. Great people. Good, balanced content. Not a small event, but not too big, and SOURCE Boston, because of the quality content, the speaker/audience ratios, the professional, yet informal feeling. And of course B-Sides events, because they open conversations and provide venues for talks and panels you will not hear anywhere else.

Q: Tell us a little more about B-Sides. How did it come to be?

After the “Thanks, but no thanks” notes went out for BlackHat USA 2009, several people expressed their disappointment, primarily on Twitter. It was suggested that there are always good talks turned down- and that it would be great to have an alternative venue for some of those talks. Idle chatter led to serious talks, and the idea became a reality. The event was great: the presentations rocked, the house had a great “intellectual frat house” feel, and a good time was had by all. There was a core group of people who were instrumental (Chris Nickerson, Mike Dahn, Travis Goodspeed, Jeff Espinoza, and more), and more people than I can count helped make it a success.

Before it was over, there were requests for more B-Sides events. There was one in Mountian View in December, and this year we have B-Sides scheduled for San Francisco, Austin, Boston, and Las Vegas this year- and there’s talk of on in Washington. DC. The goal is to have a fun and informative exchange of information, with none of the “rock star” nonsense of some events, and none of the tedium of many other security events. Details at

Q: What do you like to do when you’re not “doing security”?

I like long walks on the beach…with my coon hound. Actually, I have several neglected hobbies, blacksmithing and wood carving are the two I would really like to spend more time on. And on the rare occasions when our schedules allow it, my wife and I enjoy traveling.

Q: What area of information security would you say is your strongest?

Network Security, shepherding the little packets where they belong, preventing them from going where they shouldn’t, and keeping them out of harm’s way.

Q: What about your weakest?

Anything involving code. Or databases. I am not a coder, and my hatred of databases in not unrequited.

Q: What advice can you give to people who want to get into the information security field?

Pull up your pants, put your hat on straight, and get a real job, kid.

Q: How can people get a hold of you (e.g. blog, twitter, etc.)


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