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Don’t Just Hack — Go Pro

Jason Sattler

24.08.18 5 min. read

To commemorate F-Secure’s 30th year of innovation, we’re profiling 30 of our fellows from our more than 25 offices around the globe.

Leszek Tasiemski — F-Secure’s VP Cyber Security Products R&D, Cyber Security Products & Services — still loves to comb through malware.

As part of his job, Leszek runs a global fleet of honeypot servers that does to cyber criminals what cyber criminals love to do us — trick them. But in this case, the decoy servers attract the attention of attackers by appearing to be an easy target in order to monitor the tactics they employ to hack it. This provides crucial intelligence that F-Secure uses to eliminate online threats.

“It was — and still is! — fascinating to explore the first-hand data, browsing through millions of entries looking for the gems,” he said.

This obsession for how computers interact with to each other has been a part of Leszek’s life for three decades.

“In the mid 90s, some primary school pals and I started experimenting with the idea of setting up a LAN [Local Area Network] that we later to connected to the Internet over a fragile modem connection,” he said. “I was stunned by the idea of working on a machine which was somewhere else. You know, it was not something that was obvious back then.”

His mind moved quickly to the idea that this access could lead to some mischief.

“We played around with breaking into each other computers or resetting them with one of the basic DoS attacks that worked perfectly well back then. I remember that once someone hacked our first Linux server and that was a turning point for me.”

But, luckily for us, his experimentation with hacking got him thinking less about the crimes he could commit and more about the ones he could prevent. Or, as Hunter S. Thompson once wrote, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” And that’s what Leszek did.

“The choice of a professional white hat path was a natural consequence of those early experiences.”

Some twenty years later, he’s still learning about malware, especially from those honeypots. “There are significant differences in attack patterns and intensities between regions, countries and actually it changes over time,” he said.

He’s especially intrigued to learn that malware has a nationality. “Some samples we get only from a given country and from nowhere else.”

Leszek is also a leader in F-Secure’s development of a Rapid Detection and Response (RDS) service, which has been nominated for “New Product of the Year” by the Computing Security Awards. In many ways, this tool is a natural progression in the development of his fascination with networks in that it’s built to both protect systems but also to learn the tricks of hackers, the way he did as a teen. 

What is RDS?

“It’s an equivalent of the alarm system in your building,” he said. “When the intruder is in, he will trigger at least one of the sensors and the big guys arrive. That’s how RDR works. We have several sensors that continuously monitor the behavior on the endpoints. If something suspicious happens, you get alerted immediately and the system can even isolate the station from the network automatically to prevent further spread or data exfiltration. In the age of targeted attacks, it’s an illusion to think that all attacks can be prevented. RDR’s mission is to detect and stop advanced attacks as early as possible.”

Leszek has the earned paranoia of someone who knows just how much damage a hacker can do from first-hand knowledge. Even when he looks into the future, he can’t see the good without noting the bad.

He imagines that the technology of the next three decades will be “mind-blowing.” We will see, “AI doing boring tasks, autonomous vehicles everywhere, drones for deliveries, humans on the way to Mars.”

But he adds that at least for the near future, hackers will still be unable to resist the lure of using one computer to cause trouble on another.

“IoT devices will be much more prevalent than today,” he said. “We may see some more mass-scale attacks using completely unexpected vectors, like DDoS via Smart Toys. Of course, it doesn’t stop with home appliances. Also our offices will be more and more filled with the connected gadgets and that’s a real threat for the companies. Cyber espionage will suddenly get one more possible attack vector. Corporate networks will be increasingly difficult to protect as cloud, multicloud and SaaS usage would be more prevalent.”

What does he say to younger versions of himself who love with both the light side of computers but feel an undeniable attraction to the dark side? 

“Be curious and hungry for knowledge. Nowadays, there’s so many hacking tools that are brilliantly easy to use that there’s a risk of getting over-confident while being just a user of a tool, not really knowing what happens behind the shiny user interface. Before you use the tools, learn the basics.” 

This includes mastering how operating systems work, network protocols, and familiarity with least one programming language.

“It’s also very important to update your knowledge as the landscape is changing every day, so make sure you read a lot,” he said. “And – perhaps most importantly – make sure you stay on the right side of the law.”

In other words: Don’t just hack; go pro.

Check out our open positions if you want to join Leszek and the hundreds of other great fellows fighting to keep internet users safe from online threats.

Jason Sattler

24.08.18 5 min. read

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