Boxers and pen-testers

If you play any sort of sport, you’ll be familiar with the means by which an athlete develops their skill.  I like to box, so I’ll use that as an analogy.  Before you ever get in the ring, you have to know how to balance your body, hold your hands, throw a punch, move your feet and head, etc.  Once you master the FORM, you can then move to SPEED and STRENGTH training.  You don’t start on the heavy bag.  Kids who start on the heavy bag learn how to push a heavy bag…not how to fight.  Kids who start with shadow-boxing, footwork, then move to double-end or speed work, and finally end up on the heavy bag, have the correct form to punch through an object and not push an object.  I digress…

There is a discussion on the dailydave mailing list regarding the benefits of being able to reliably write exploit code in order to do pen-testing.  Writing exploit code, reversing binary apps, and fuzzing are great skills.  I liken them to a knockout punch.  Not many people have these skills (relative to the total number of pen-testers).  The problem is that you don’t want to start learning how to knock people out until you have figured out how to get close enough to throw the punch.  How many times have you seen a pen-tester show up on site with his/her interpreter?  I don’t mean a literal interpreter, I mean the person tasked with harnessing the creative maelstrom that is the pen-tester.  These two (or more) often have their shtick all worked out and the Corporate folks grin along with the show.

Corporate folks: whatcha got on that leash there?

Interpreter: the whooly behemoth, recently returned from a heap-overflow bloodbath at Antigua

Corporate folks: AH!  EEH!  is it…is it like the others?

Interpreter: Unlike any other that has been seen in this part of the corporate world.  Terribly destructive.

Corporate folks: Do we treat it like the others and put it in a cube near the bathroom, feed it pizza and caffeine and never, ever look it in the eyes?

Interpreter: Yes.  Further, you have been blessed with the fact that I have been blessed with the ability of communicating with Bob…errr…the Behemoth.  [turns to behemoth] ukkle snarp miselthrape dominos pizza muhgarkle

Behemoth: muhgarkle?  jasi blem blam Papa Johns [and shuffles off to cube]

Interpreter: He’s on it now.  [winks at crowd]  I don’t know howwwwwww he does it [glances over shoulder at shuffling behemoth]…different breed, that’s for sure.

Corporate folks: [laughing].  Well, we sure are glad they sent You.  Some companies [wink wink] just leave their behemoths on site with no supervision.

Interpreter: Oh, no.  Yeah, we could never do that with this one…I could tell you some stories…oh my…leave him alone on site…horrible…hey, it’s almost 11:00.  Who’s up for lunch?

This is roughly akin to a boxer entering the ring on the shoulders of another guy.  The other guy lugs him around the ring, trying to position him to throw haymakers at the opponent.  How much better if the guy throwing the haymakers had mastered the form necessary to get close enough to land a punch.  With respect to corporate consultants, the form isn’t really that hard to come by.  A few things:

1) You should be and smell clean.  Often overlooked, a consultant should be well dressed, groomed, and not reek of the margarita shots that he/she was taking at the strip club 3 hours before the work day began.

2) You should be able to communicate with the business professionals that are paying for your consulting.  This includes both speaking AND writing in a clear and intelligible fashion.

3) You should be able to understand business drivers and how they might *possibly* apply to your consulting engagement. This is an important point – The company will tell you what needs to be accomplished.  Not the other way around.


  • nonl33t

    Excellent post as always!

    People need to understand that you have to crawl before you walk. But our l33t folks want to show off with their overflow skills when they can’t even do the bascs