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Re: All of the things you need to learn to be a pen-tester (Re: Pen t est basic needs)
From: Daniel Miessler <daniel () dmiessler com>
Date: Wed, 3 Aug 2005 00:37:28 -0400

On Jul 15, 2005, at 5:08 PM, Hagen, Eric wrote:

Learn the difference between a cracker, hacker and a
script-kiddie. FYI, good pen-testers are BY DEFINITION, good hackers. Bad
pen-testers are almost always uhhh  "white hat script-kiddies".

Dude, this is perhaps the best description of pentesting skillsets that I've ever seen. I am quite unhappy with where I personally fall on that scale, but I'm working to improve my position. :) Well said, man...well said.

but being a good pen-tester is basically akin to being a good cracker.

Exactly, and I'd add to this that true cracking starts only when you've run every packaged tool and found NO MAJOR OPENINGS. If you can get in after finding out that there aren't any massive vulnerabilities, *then* you can call yourself a pentester. Until then you're mostly just running tools and pressing buttons.

I've cracked a decent number of networks in my time as a professional and I always get praise for it. Although I may have done something pretty cool stuff to get control of a network (in the few cases where there was at least *some* challenge), the openings I had were always too large to earn myself any self-respect. It's not cracking if your first foothold was a vulnerability that lets you use an attack already in Metasploit. That's just too easy, and if it's easy -- it's not true cracking.

The absolute worst, though, is being called a hacker. It's despicable. I feel like screaming, "You shouldn't even be allowed to use that word, let alone give the title to someone else." The Princess Bride always comes to mind:

Presenter: "This is Daniel, he's a hacker."
Me: "I do not think that word means what you think it means."

So yeah, the differences are very important, as is knowing where you truly stand. The vast majority of "pentesters" are just security professionals running security tools; there's no creativity, no innovation, no spark. Most are actually just kiddies, the next lot falls above kiddies and below true crackers, then there's the real elites -- those with 1) the cracker mentality, and 2) the cracker skillsets. I'm in the upper part of level two I'd say, constantly heading toward where I need to be. :)

It's interesting that you, Eric, don't call yourself a pentester either. I do becasue it's my job, but I can't help but feel like the eternal student with no rights to call myself anything. I use this feeling to continue growing.

Being a good cracker is about patience, knowledge, intuition, knowledge, experience,
knowledge and most importantly, all of the above.

Amen, brother.

FYI, FOUR semesters of Graduate Level network infrastructure, network design and "information warfare" classes didn't come close to covering all of this

Yes. This is what I'm talking about. It's like the most qualified people have the lowest opinions of their skills. In short, we know best how little we really do know.

And I'm no pen-tester. I wouldn't even put my foot down to claim that I could be. I have 4 years experience in network design, down to writing bare C on raw Ethernet frames and up to designing a WAN topography and I wouldn't
feel comfortable selling myself as a "pen-tester".  In my opinion, the
pen-tester has to be close to the elite of the crackers or their test does

Completely agreed. There's only one problem with your definition -- it only leaves a few hundred people worldwide. I'd submit that you *can* have people below this uber-elite level offer something tangible to clients. If you can perform a "pentest" for a client and uncover deficiencies in their security which they then go on to fix, you've performed a service that's worth paying for. Would it be better if it were done by one of the true elites? Sure -- but that's not to say that the former isn't valuable to some degree.

The problem is there are very few who are even capable of doing *that* among those that call themselves pentesters. As discussed, most people with the title are simply running tools. They're the CORE IMPACT class. Point and click, point and click.

If all you do is run some tools and see that the tools can't do any damage,
you're a script-kiddie, not a pen-tester.


I occasionally refer to myself as a "security professional" but even that
sometimes feels like a stretch.

Seriously...me too. I feel like being a student of the discipline and a "professional" are almost mutually exclusive, and I'm *definitely* the former. The thing you have to consider, though, is how you compare to the other "professionals". :) Think of the benefit to the client moreso than your own personal ranking. If I went by my own personal standards, I wouldn't be in the field at all. I'd be huddled up over my personal computer lab "getting ready" for the next 15 years.

I would love to be an assistant with
someone far more experienced than myself.  I love learning.  :-)

Same here, and thanks for the most excellent post.


Daniel R. Miessler
M: daniel () dmiessler com
W: http://dmiessler.com
G: 0x316BC712

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