June 10, 2022
by Hacker Valley Red
John Hammond, Senior Security Researcher at Huntress Labs and self-described cybersecurity education enthusiast, joins us as we continue our discussion of red team legends. With a focus on content creation this week, John discusses his success with his YouTube channel, his passion for showcasing authentic and accessible educational materials online, and his advice for creating content safely and spreading awareness with not only a red team or blue team mindset, but with a purple team perspective.
[01:37] Understanding the impact of content creators in the cybersecurity community, especially when it comes to YouTube educational content
[06:58] Becoming a successful YouTube creator through consistently posting hacking content and ignoring the stereotype of “overnight success”
[13:28] Combining his role as a cybersecurity educator with his security research at Huntress to explore exploits and have real life experience with what he teaches
[16:47] Focusing on the blue side of the house as someone with red team experience, and understanding how to use a tool like PlexTrac to create a collaborative purple team
[21:13] Being mindful of the impact he has through sharing this knowledge and understanding the risk of cybersecurity educational materials falling into “the wrong hands”
Thank you to our sponsors Axonius and PlexTrac for bringing this season of HVR to life!
Life is complex. But it’s not about avoiding challenges or fearing failure. Just ask Simone Biles — the greatest gymnast of all time. Want to learn more about how Simone controls complexity? Watch her video at axonius.com/simone
PlexTrac, the Proactive Cybersecurity Management Platform, brings red and blue teams together for better collaboration and communication. Check them out at plextrac.com/hackervalley
What is your origin story for wanting to educate other hackers?
Like many of us, John started his journey Googling how to become a hacker. As he gained more knowledge about the specific skills involved in hacking, John never left the internet behind, always seeking out videos and articles explaining new and emerging content. Inspired by those who created that content in the first place, he started his own YouTube channel, simply titled John Hammond, as has spent years cultivating a consistent hacker audience.
“Along the way, creating content and helping educate others through YouTube is really my main stage platform and has been just a passion project, a labor of love, and something fun along the way.”
What feelings do you get looking back on the YouTube content you’ve created so far?
John prioritizes clarity, transparency, and honesty in what he does, and he’s not afraid to show some humbleness, too. Overall, John is thankful for his YouTube success and the impact it had on the cybersecurity community. No matter what he’s showing in his videos, he prefers to keep things honest, to show where he’s made mistakes, and to accept criticism and advice from other hackers and offensive cybersecurity professionals that see his work.
“I'm showcasing just my computer screen, maybe you get a little face cam and a circle on the bottom right, but it's like you're looking over my shoulder. You're seeing me showcase something raw, live, genuine, and authentic…It’s not all sexy, there’s a lot of failure in hacking.”
Have you ever considered focusing on the blue team or the defensive side of cybersecurity?
The majority of John's YouTube content and the work he does in his role at Huntress Labs heavily involves the red team and offensive side of cyber. However, John is a huge advocate for the blue team and the red team collaborating and communicating better. Through making more concepts in cybersecurity accessible through educational content like John’s own videos, he hopes we can continue to bridge the gap and achieve that perfectly mixed purple team.
“We're all playing in concert. As one team sharpens their skills in the red team pen test, then it's up to the blue team to figure that out. What did they do? How can we better detect it? How can we stop and mitigate that security threat?”
What advice do you have for red team content creators that want to share content and spread awareness safely?
With the impact that he’s had and the content he’s put out onto the internet, John is no stranger to seeing the negative side of cybersecurity knowledge being more accessible than ever before. Still, he wants to make sure content creators understand the value of transparency and honesty in what they do. Instead of fearing what could be, cultivate a community around making this level of knowledge and security available to everyone.
“Share, be transparent, be forthcoming. I know there are a lot of conversations about gatekeeping in cybersecurity, but there shouldn't be that. I understand there's grit and determination and hard work to do all the things that you're doing, but be friendly and be transparent and honest.”
Hacking the Vocabulary:
Cybersecurity Capture the Flag (CTF): Competitions to demonstrate expertise in attacking computer resources. The “flag” is normally a file or code a team recovers and provides as proof of their successful penetration of defenses.
Python Programming Language: A powerful, general-use programming language, often used in web development, data science, and creating software prototypes.
The Onion Router (TOR): A free and open-source software for enabling anonymous communication, with each “onion” network having layers of encryption.
Kaseya VSA Ransomware Incident: A ransomware attack in July of 2021. This paralyzed as many as 1,500 organizations by compromising tech-management software from a company called Kaseya.
Log4j: A Java-based logging utility used by developers to keep track of what happens in their software applications or online services.
Zero-Day Vulnerability: A vulnerability in a system or device that has been disclosed but is not yet patched.
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