InfoSec, HackTheBox & learning to live like Shia LaBeouf

I had just polished off what was left of a bottle of Sailor Jerry's, I was sitting on a futon which was laid out on the ground of a small room. I had just parted with my companions of the night, at this point getting home around 1AM drunk was pretty standard for me.

I was listening to music bustling out of some busted speakers from my stereo, but more than that I was focusing on the reverberation of every note off the walls.

I can remember clearly how I felt that night, I wondered what the hell I was doing. Why was I living in this house, in this town, in this state working dead-end temp jobs?

Rewind a year or two, I was just getting off of a plane after traveling for about 1000 miles to get here. My life wasn't better before I got here, but for some reason I thought getting here would change that, it didn't.

I left my computer behind, I had spent my entire life glued to those glowing screens. I felt alone, even in the company of friends. I wanted to know what it felt like to not feel like that anymore.

The Downward Spiral

I was self-medicating with a medication called effexor I was getting from a friend who didn't take hers. I was regulating my doses of it hoping it would help everything make sense. It didn't.

My depression was only getting worse. I felt like I was spiralling further and further downward and I couldn't imagine it would ever get better.

Eventually, I was comitted to a mental hospital where I would spend a few weeks of my life. It was an awful experience. I didn't want to be there, but they wouldn't let me leave. The meals were way more consistent than I was used to, and I did meet some really good people who had it way worse than I did, though.

Then, as quickly as it all happened, it was over.

Upon release, they had prescribed me a pretty hefty dosage of medication. I really hated the way it made me feel. I didn't want to take them, but I knew I had a problem. In hopes to stop taking them, I started studying psychology. I wanted to truly understand myself, and to learn to cope with my own issues. I read about my disorder and similar disorders. I read existential works by great authors. I got really into Myers-Briggs personality types and the enneagram.

However, while it helped, it just wasn't enough. I spiralled further and further into my depression and coping mechanisms. I began reading more and more Dostoevsky as I felt I could relate to him. His works spoke a truth of me that I couldn't ever really put my finger on. I had always felt like there was some cog missing in me that made me somehow different, inferior, to the rest of the world. Like I was somehow less than human.

My life was going nowhere, I couldn't get out of dead-end jobs or afford to survive without 3 roommates. I was spending what little money I made on alcohol. I had no schooling, I dropped out in 7th grade. The only discernable skills I had were computer-related but everyone kept telling me that field was overrun and the competition was too much. I had given up on ever making something of myself.

Still, I had to get out of my situation. I had to get away from the complacency, so I decided to point my car north and drive.

I don't know what I thought it would acommplish. Maybe I secretly knew my dad would take me in. Maybe I thought I would just figure it out on the fly.

Regardless, I did stay with my dad for ten months. I even got a job selling cars, I was making more money than I ever had. However, what people don't tell you is that not only does money not buy happiness, but it also helps you to invest in your sadness. Anyway, I knew this wasn't the life I was supposed to be living. So I quit.

I was depressed, and unemployed for the next couple of months. I had always held down a job no matter how shitty it was since my first job. I didn't want to be a burden on anyone, but I was just really, really tired.

I got back in touch with a really old friend that encouraged me a lot. So on a whim I applied to a data center and was really surprised when I got hired. Even though I hadn't used a computer like this in so many years, it turns out my Linux knowledge wasn't too rusty and the total immersion in computers I did as a kid paid off.

I excelled here, I received a lot of positive feedback from supervisors and managers. While employed there I got the security bug back and started off by reading up on recent security trends/CVEs, as well as getting my Security+ certification. I even built my first computer in five years!

Then things started going down hill. They had promised me things and didn't hold up their end of the bargain. Instead they roadblocked me internally from progressing. I had finally got my ambition back and I wasn't going to allow myself to slow down just because this company wanted to trap me in their support department.

I was developing again, doing CTFs, and just generally consuming so much information. I had disclosed an SQLi within one of their internal systems which was not taken seriously. Their HR department allowed all of our W2s to get phished, and then they took away what few perks the job offered me. I decided to quit without finding another job first. I had a few grand saved up in the bank and figured I'd find something else quickly enough, I didnt.

I hit rock bottom, lost my apartment, lost my car, was in heavy debt and had no idea what I was going to do next. So I did the only thing I knew how to do, I hit the road and ran away from it.

I was unemployed again, living out of random hotels or sleeping in a friends car. We were traveling state to state and town to town selling cars. Drinking, or doing whatever I could to push my self-contempt downward.

Deciding to stop giving up

Randomly, I saw a tweet for HackTheBox from Azeria, this sounded like a great way to develop my skills and meet like minded people. I moved in with a friend and started freelancing to save up money to get my life back on track.

How HackTheBox got me a job - Image 6

I joined and climbed to top 10 in 34 days! I learned so much, wrote notes along the way, started a blog, did tons of self study to catch up knowledge I felt like I was missing from my many long lapses from the industry. I met a lot of really intelligent people and shared ideas with them. I asked them for advice and I took that advice, too.

How HackTheBox got me a job - Image 7

I applied to an InfoSec company through HackTheBox's Jobs feature. I was immediately E-Mailed by their recruitment staff. Surprisingly, my resume and experiences on HackTheBox got me through the interview. Even with no worth-while certifications and minimal real world job experience.

How HackTheBox got me a job - Image 8

The entire interview process went really smoothly and everyone I talked to was very laid back.

They let me know I got the job a few days later. Obviously, I was estatic and felt very thankful to the HackTheBox team for such an amazing platform.

I think in the future a platform like this that connects talent with companies in a way that allows them to demonstrate their knowledge without certifications will be a crucial part of the process. Not everyone is clasically trained, there are legions of self-taught enthusiasts who have a wide range of skills and passions.

Week One

I just finished my first week there and it's been great!

I get to work with the amazing chazb0t, who started the same day as me. The rest of our team are amazing people who are clearly very intelligent. Our managers can be in the dead middle of an engagment that is due that day and if we ask them a question they will get up, walk over, and talk to us like we are their equals.

We learned a lot on our first week about reporting, using their internal tools, and we got to research things to try to help them with an engagement they were doing.

On Friday, they let us play with a Cisco Catalyst 2950 switch, we learned about configuring them, as well as some methods of VLAN hopping. Chaz also showed me yersinia, and we learned yersinia is actually the coolest layer-2 hacking tool.

Moral of the story

Watch out for people who will try to drag you down, even while pretending to be your friends. Reach out to people you want to be friends with, chances are they are far more approachable than you imagine.

If you're like me and didn't do too great in the public school system, don't give up. Even if you don't have schooling or certifications, you can get into the field with dedication and hard work.

Ask people for advice, and listen to them. Ask them to review your resume. Ask them for mock interviews. Practice your ass off. Take notes. Start projects. You got this.

As always,
Happy Hacking.

Elijah S.
Written by

Elijah S.

I'm just a nut obsessed with information and network security :)

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