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<< 12 / 2018 2 / 2019 >>

The (alleged) Ed Skoudis Plan For Success

2019-01-20 07:27:00

In our field we often learn that attribution is hard. In this case it amounts to no more than hearsay. So let's discuss the alleged Ed Skoudis Plan For Success(tm). On our last day at SEC566, our trainer Russel gave us some parting wisdom among which an anecdote. To paraphrase: 

I asked Ed, "Ed, how did you get this far in your career?" and he said "You know? Years and years back, I decided that every day I would take one to two hours for myself and study something new". And that's what I've been doing for the past ten years: every morning I get up at five, knowing I've got the house to myself for at least two hours. the first two days I spent them catching up with email or reading infosec news. But then I thought, there's gotta be a better way to spend this time. So I set myself study goals.

This is a message I can get behind! Mostly because I've been doing the exact same thing for the past six years. ^_^

It's only missing one thing: direction.

Before 2010 I had some less-than-fun experiences with studying. My previous employer had a very rigid process for certification, requiring you to pass through a certain strict of (what I considered to be very drab) certifications before allowing you to move on to the fun stuff. So I'd turned into someone who didn't enjoy studying: it was a "must" instead of a "want". 

Now, studying for my CISSP around that time changed things a bit! I spent weeks upon weeks working through that fat book, doing exercises and research, taking a bootcamp to earn that valued cert. And it was great! But then I turned into a CISSP slacker.

But things got better! Because in 2013 I had enough of it! I'm not a fscking slacker, I'm a professional! Sure, everybody has got their hangups, as do I. So I tackled them! I turned to my best friend and brother-from-another-mother Menno and asked him for choaching. The life-coaching kind of style. I'm very grateful for the help he offered me at the time. 

One of the things to come from those coaching sessions is direction. There we go! The missing ingredient! And the funny things is that what's needed, is already in the title of this post: a plan

Make yourself a plan!

At the time I made a plan that would allow me the bare minimum to retain my CISSP status. That was the first hurdle to take, allowing me more freedom to move and breathe once it'd been taken. Well it worked! And instead of settling back into the slacking I'd done before I started setting myself goals and challenges in the form of certifications. It's not that I believe certifications to be the silver bullet to a great career, but setting them as a goal tends to provide focus: you have to study hard enough, with a certain deadline, to make the cut. 

Initially I consulted friends and collagues to find which certs would provide value to my resumé, which led to the RHCSA and RHCE certs. And from there on, things just kept rolling and expanding! Classes left and right, webinars and videos from infosec conventions and more and more certifications. 

The most important things I've learned:

Without knowing it, I was following Ed's plan all this time. And it has brought me far. :)


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My experiences as SANS Facilitator (SEC566)

2019-01-17 19:27:00

EDIT:

Oooff... Linking to my homebrew website on a SANS Twitter-feed; how's that for #LivingDangerously? For the love of cookies, please don't hack me. I like my Dreamhost account... ^_^

 


 

About a month ago I explained a bit about the amazing chance I'd been offered by SANS, when they accepted me into their Work/Study Program. My week with SANS is coming to its end, so I thought I'd share a few of my experiences. Quite a few others have shared their stories in the past (linked below), but this is mine. :)

 

As was expected the days are pretty long and the work is hard. But for me they haven't been unbearably long, nor impossibly hard. Overall the atmosphere at SANS Amsterdam has been pretty laidback! 

Before coming to town, our event managers had set up a WhatsApp group so we could stay in close contact before and during the event. This turned out to be very helpful, as we could keep messaging eachother during class through the magic of WA's webapp. You can count on silly memes flying through that chat, but it's been mostly useful :)

Sunday was spent moving and unpacking 250 boxes of books into the respective eight rooms. There's a rather specific layout that SANS want their student-tables to be in (books stacked exactly so-and-so, pen here w/ yellow cap there, logo pointing here and so on. As another Facilitator said: "Clearly someone has put a lot of thought into this...". I've found that, after putting the boxes on the ground in a circle around me, I got into the rhythm of making the stacks real quickly. Setting up the mics and speakers and rigging powerlines was a nice flashback to my days with AnimeCon

Choosing not to stay at an Amsterdam hotel has been both a boon and a burden. Traveling home allows me to see Marli and Dana every night and saves me quite some dough. It'll also take my head out of SANS a little bit, so I can unwind. On the other hand I'm missing out on the nightly sessions and NetWars

Working with the SEC566 trainer Russell has been nothing but a pleasure. As he himself said, he's "pretty low maintenance". He doesn't need me to go around town to grab things for him, just make sure his water bottles are always available and that the room's ready for use. So instead, most of my time went to the rest of the party: cleaning the room, prepping for the next day and making sure that the other students are "in a good place". A few people were having issues with their lab VMs, some folks had questions about practical SANS matters and others were simply looking for a nice chat. 

Speaking of: I can honestly say that it's been a long while since I've spent time with such a friendly group of people! I know that some folks on the web have been complaining that the InfoSec industry has been toxifying in recent years, but at least we didn't notice anything'bout that at SANS Amsterdam. I've met quite a few fun and interesting people here! 

In short: I am very grateful for the opportunity SANS have given me and I would recommend applying for the role to anyone in a heartbeat!

 


 

EDIT: Because some people have asked, here's my "normal" workday as Facilitator, traveling from home in Almere to Amsterdam.

 

During the lab exercises I usually work ahead, so I'm one chapter ahead of the class. That will allow me to know upfront what kind of problems they may run into and may need help with. As others on TechExams.net have pointed out, Facilitators are NOT the same as TAs (teaching assistants). So on the one hand I am constantly a bit anxious about whether or not I'm butting into the trainer's ground. On the other hand I've had good responses from both classmates and the trainer, so I reckon I didn't tick anyone off... At least not this time :D

I can imagine that it'd be entirely different in a tech-oriented class. I'd have to pipe down a lot more than I did this week. 


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Homelab: network segregation

2019-01-11 21:06:00

So far I've built a few VMs in my homelab, to house my AD DS and AD CS services (the Directory Services and PKI respectively). There's also a few CentOS 7 boxen spinning up to house Graylog and ElasticSearch

Up until this point, all these VMs were getting their IP addresses from our home's internal network infrastructure. Of course it's always a bad idea to mix production and dev/test environments, so I've set up segregation between the two. The easiest way to achieve this will also help me achieve one of my goals for 2019: get acquainted with the pfSense platform.

pfSense is a BSD-based, open source platform for routers/firewalls that can be run both as a VM or on minimalistic ARM-hardware. In my case, I've done a setup comparable to Garrett Mills' example on Medium.com. In short:

  1. I have defined a new virtual switch in VMWare, tied to one of the unused NICs of the Dell R410.
  2. This new virtual switch ("LabLAN") is then tied to a newly created port group, also called "LabLAN".
  3. The pfSense VM is assigned two NICs: one tied to the default "VM Network" port group, which leads to the used NIC on the R410, and the other tied into the "LabLAN" port group.
  4. After installing pfSense, the "VM Network" NIC is indicated as the WAN-interface, with the "LabLAN" NIC being the LAN-interface.
  5. After running through the basic pfSense configuration, it mostly works out of the box!
  6. I've migrated all the VMs I'd made so far into the "LabLAN" port group, adjusting their IP configurations accordingly. 

BAM! The dev/test VMs are now tucked away into their pocket universe, invisible to our home network. 

EDIT:

The pfSense folks also provide nice documentation on setting up their product inside VMWare ESX.


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Expanding my homelab

2019-01-10 21:47:00

(C) Dell

For the past X years, I've ran my homelab on my Macbook Air. I've always been impressed with how much you can get away with, on this light portable, sporting an i5 and 8GB of RAM. It'll run two Win2012 VMs and a number of small Linux hosts, aside the MacOS host.

But there's the urge for more! I've been playing with so much cool stuff over the years! I wan't to emulate a whole corporate environment for my studies and tests!

Like the OpenSOC folks, I've been eyeing those Skull Canyon Intel NUCs. They're so sexy! Tiny footprint, combined with great performance! But they're also quite expensive and they don't have proper storage on board. My colleague Martin put me on the trail of local refurbishers and last week I hit gold. 

Well... Fool's Gold, maybe. But still! It was shiny, it looked decent and the price was okay. I bought a refurbished Dell R410

Quick specs:

Yes, it's pretty old already (generation 11 Dell hardware). Yes, it's power hungry. Yes, it's loud. But it was affordable and it's giving me a chance to work with enterprise hardware again, after being out of the server rooms for a long while. 

After receiving the pizza box and inspecting it for damage, the first order of business was to setup its iDRAC6. iDRAC is Dell's solution to what vendors like HP call ILO: a tiny bit of embedded hardware that can be used across the network to manage the whole server's hardware.

The iDRAC configuration was tackled swiftly and the web interface was available immediately. It took a bit of digging in Dell's documentation, but I learned how to flash the iDRAC6 firmware so I could upgrade it to the latest (2.95) version. It really was as easy as downloading the "monolithic" iDRAC firmware, extracting the .D6 file and uploading it through the iDRAC web interface. Actually finding the upload/update button in the interface took more effort :p

Getting the iDRAC6 remote console working took a little more research. For version 6 of the hardware, the remote console relies upon a Java application, which you can call by clicking a button in the web interface. What this does is download a JNLP configuration file, which in turn downloads the actual JAR file for execution. This is a process that doesn't work reliably on modern MacOS due to all the restrictions put on Java. The good news is that Github user Nicola ("XBB") provides instructions on how to reliably and quickly start the remote console for any iDRAC6 on MacOS, Linux and Windows. 

Last night I installed VMWare ESXi 6.5, which I've been told is the highest version that'll work on this box. No worries, it's good stuff! The installation worked well, installing onto a SanDisk Cruzer Fit mini USB-drive that's stuck into the front panel. I still have a lot of learning to do with VMWare :)

In the mean time, there's two VMs building and updating (Win2012 and CentOS7), so I can use them as the basis for my "corporate" environment. 

My plans for the near future:

I'm having so much fun! :D


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