When most people think of hackers they think of movie tropes; hooded teens stood on street corners uttering “I’m in” in hushed tones before taking down the evil corporation. Or maybe we’ve just watched Hackers too many times.
In the real world, hackers are a blight, stealing sensitive information and shutting down essential services. Thankfully, there are also ethical hackers, known as ‘white hats’, who basically do everything that illegal hackers do, but then helpfully explain how they’ve done it after.
For this edition of Talk Radar we are talking to Tim Varkalis, who worked as an ethical hacker for cyber security firms Portcullis and PwC.
First things first, how much is hacking like the 90’s film Hackers?
Hacking is much cooler. It’s like a combination of Swordfish and Star Trek.
No, not really. After eight years together my partner was still unable to tell when I was working because to an external observer it just looks like somebody staring at lines of text on a screen. It would probably be the worst spectator sport in the world.
But it is fascinating, it is exciting; because when you do understand it, it’s the fingerprint of the world that you’re looking at, trying to figure out how it all works, how to manipulate it to your will, [uncovering] the steps you need to use to confuse this thing and get it to do your bidding. It’s a challenge.
How do you get the job of being a hacker?
There are now degrees in hacking. You can do an entire degree dedicated to hacking at Royal Holloway. Sometimes people study it and they come out and they know nothing. They’re not as good as the intern sat next to them that studied classics. That stuff happens.
Brains work in all different funky ways, and it’s a case of looking for people that can understand how a system works, and then how it breaks. It’s an advanced version of that thing that inquisitive kids do with a Hoover where they take it apart to figure out how it works.
I was intrigued because some of my friends were going for this career, and I imagined it would be like Girl With the Dragon Tattoo…super geek stuff. But that was really inconsistent with the technical skill level of my friends, so I thought maybe this is realistic for me.
And that’s when I found out that loads of things …read more