The content of the article
I will not talk for a long time about the most international school HackerU, which specializes in training professionals in the field of information security – you can find all the relevant information in relevant section on the organization's website. But what should be discussed in detail is about the direction taught at HackerU, about the teacher and, of course, about the learning process itself. So, in order.
In the bag
It is relatively easy to master the profession of a programmer, system administrator or webmaster these days – there would be a desire. Pentesters, on the other hand, were less fortunate: until recently, this area was not purposefully taught anywhere. Therefore, the majority of practicing hackers (regardless of whether they are on the side of attack or defense) are self-taught, who have reached the heights of mastery over the years of painstaking collection and analysis of information.
At the same time, the profession of a pentester has important features that only practitioners can tell about. Unlike some other IT specialties, this job is truly creative: you choose your own methods of finding security holes, how to explore and exploit them. There are, of course, generally accepted test methodologies and protocols, but most of them are advisory in nature.
That is, the work of a pentester is somewhat akin to the activity of a scientist or a detective: you need to find a weak spot in the defense and come up with a strategy for using it. Compared to the same programming, there is much less routine here, and an order of magnitude more drive, although a pentester often has to write a script or two to automate some processes.
The most boring stage, in my opinion, is reporting. But this task can be solved with a twinkle, especially if you know how to express your thoughts on paper and you like it. If not, in some Red Teams, a specially trained technical writer is involved in folding letters into words.
The second most important thing is community. The hacker community is very close and very close-knit, here literally everyone knows everyone, because from year to year they hang out at the same events like PHDays or Zero Nights, not to mention chamber
beer gatherings like "2600". Note: I do not mean "anonymous communities of interest" on all well-known forums, but professional events for information security specialists, where you can not only listen to interesting reports, but also chat with cool guys who are ready to exchange with you the latest gossip current knowledge and discuss the latest technology. It's extremely interesting and insanely inspiring. And the technical level of the participants in such conferences is very high, and many of them really have a lot to learn.
Finally, the work of a pentester is well paid. Sometimes it’s very good. In addition, this is, perhaps, the only legal way to be a hacker and get paid for it – that is, to do what you love (for example, hacking) without fear of sitting down on bunks for this hobby. It seems that the listed arguments are quite enough for every reasonable person to awaken the desire to master this profession. So, she needs to learn.
On the other side of the screen
As the American writer Henry Adams used to say, "the teacher influences eternity." At HackerU, Egor Bogomolov, a former employee of Informzashita, Bizon and Wallarm, an expert on mobile and web application security, corporate network security and code analysis, influences eternity. It would be possible to stretch the "blah-blah-blah" about his track record for a couple more paragraphs, but instead, it is better to just mention that some of the editorial staff of "Hacker" know Yegor personally, and therefore we, in general, there is no serious doubt about its adequacy.
It is much more important to talk about how Yegor teaches. So: participation in the intensive showed that Yegor teaches very well. At the same time, the trick of his approach is that he practically does not use slides, because (in his own words) he does not like them, and instead prefers to explain everything in words, helping himself by showing the screen of his laptop. It actually turns out much clearer.
Egor explains in detail each point of the curriculum and answers questions from the audience. Even if they are not directly related to the topic in question. The most pleasant aspect, in my opinion, is that when you finish the course, the teacher does not disappear anywhere, but remains in touch. You can contact Egor at any time in the Telegram and consult on a burning topic.
During the intensive, Egor relies on practice. That is, having briefly talked about the topic of the lesson, he offers to complete a practical task and gives comprehensive explanations on how to achieve success along the way. If the listener has problems installing or configuring the necessary software, Egor helps to solve them – he can even connect to a computer via RDP and configure everything manually. Some of the modules of the full course are read by other teachers, but I can’t tell you anything about them, since I listened to only the introductory four-day block. However, if they all have the same expertise and charisma as Yegor Bogomolov, it will certainly be interesting and pleasant to acquire knowledge.
And what do they teach there?
To organize distance learning, the HackerU website uses the free Moodle engine, and the listener's personal account interface is quite consistent with the name. Anyone who has worked with this LMS is familiar with this pain. In general, it is not very convenient, but you can get used to it.
It would probably be nice if all the most useful links – to the telegram chat, to the section in which the attendance should be noted, to the list of the necessary software – were somewhere in a prominent place. But no, you need to look for the link to the chat in the news and announcements section, and crawl through the menu for the rest. However, in the classroom, students are shown a QR code with which they need to enter a code word and thereby confirm that you attended the lecture. Forget it – absenteeism will be counted.
The lecture is held at Zoom. The screen shows the teacher's computer desktop, the image from his camera and the faces of other participants in the action. Yes, before the start of the lesson you will be asked to turn on the camera so that the lecturer can see your physiognomy and evaluate the reaction to the material presented by your facial expressions. True, the request can be completely ignored: parents will not be called to school for this. And even if you missed one of the lectures, it's okay: you can view all the lessons later in the recording.
Questions can be asked in the built-in Zoom chat and in the "cart". I would not say that following two chats at once during a lecture is an extremely productive undertaking, but at the introductory intensive the listeners were not very active, and the chats did not interfere with the gnawing of science granite.
As already mentioned, the main focus is on practice. This very practice is built on the basis of CTF: the listener must study the material, complete the task, find the "secret flag", the role of which is played by a special passphrase, and submit it on the corresponding page. The course program uses its own CTF platform, to which students have access. Students compete with each other in who will collect the most
frags flags and solve all problems faster than opponents.
The course (at least the introductory part) is aimed at IT specialists who have no experience in penetration testing, but already have some basic knowledge. For example, it is suitable for sysadmins who want to acquire new skills in cybersecurity, developers who want to learn how to protect their projects with high quality, managers who dream of better understanding information security issues. In short, everyone who is interested in ethical hacking and does not know where to start.
What theoretical basis do you need to have in order to speak the same language with teachers? First of all, you need to have a good idea of the client-server architecture, understand how the server works, how DNS works. It is necessary at least at the initial level to understand the network protocols and headers of TCP packets, because without this you will understand the material exactly until the moment when Yegor Bogomolov suddenly turns from searching for a flag in the HTML code of a web page to a story about interception and analysis traffic.
You need to understand the architecture of Windows at least in general terms and know how it differs from the internal structure of Linux. And of course, you need English – you will have to study a significant part of the information yourself, and the most sensible manuals, as you know, are written in the language of Shakespeare and Bill Gates.
Throughout the intensive, students are repeatedly reminded that this is just the first step to the heights of hacking skills. The following can be overcome by listening to the materials in the main course. The HackerU website, white and blue, says that the full training cycle for this program instills such useful skills as "penetration testing of IT infrastructures" (I wonder where IT infrastructures penetrate?), "The use of software tools for social engineering attacks" (why attack social engineering?) and "reverse engineering of programs" (for me it remains a mystery, what is HackerU trying to multiply reverse engineering for, but quite possibly by zero).
A separate module is devoted to reverse engineering and virus analysis, although personally I can hardly imagine what can be learned in this area in a few hours: virus analysts accumulate the experience necessary for work for years. At the end, students are taught how to prepare for the CEH and OSCP exams. I did not take the advanced course, so I cannot share my personal impressions about it. But breadth and coverage of the training program truly impressive.
The first day
The first day of the Penetration Testing Intensive is dedicated to introduction to the profession and attacks on web applications. Egor Bogomolov talks about who pentesters are, what they do and how they make money, depicts the professional perspectives of legal hackers and their advantages over illegal ones. After convincing the audience that hacking is cool and interesting, Egor goes on to intercept and analyze traffic. The tool is Burp Suite, which is used to demonstrate an example of hacking a web application.
The second lesson covers in detail the attacks on operating systems and the hacking of applications that can be detected on a compromised host. The student will get acquainted with the concept of vulnerability, as well as master the basic techniques of working in Kali Linux.
Of course, it is impossible to reach the peaks and dive into the depths of hacking in one three-hour lesson, but this module gives a good basic idea of the Red Team's working methods.
The third section of the cycle deals with attacks on the information infrastructure of enterprises. Egor offers an overview of methods for collecting and analyzing information about an attacked object and tells how to get the necessary data from open sources. Students will learn about social engineering techniques, and then get acquainted with the basic capabilities of the Metasploit framework.
The fourth day is generally dedicated to
trying to sell a full course of study to students answers to questions from the audience and includes a detailed story about the professional prospects of pentesters. Students will learn how good it is to be a "white hacker" and how bad it is not to be. If you still have doubts about your choice of profession, this block should finally dispel all your doubts.
Penetration testing intensive by HackerU is really intended for IT professionals with no experience in the field of penetration testing, who already have a basic knowledge of network technologies and OS architecture. It represents the first step in a more complete training cycle for the specialty of a pentester. If you are already an experienced hacker, in these classes you are unlikely to discover something fundamentally new. However, if you are just planning to learn the techniques and methods of hacking, as well as to become in the future an expert in information security, a member of the Red Team or a bounty hunter, this course will help you master the basics of the profession.
An overview of the tools and a talk about practical methods of work will be very useful for further professional growth. Communication with real experts in information security from among the teachers of HackerU, as well as with like-minded people who are trained with you, will be no less useful. After all, the professional community is what truly unites information security professionals around the world.