Unusual Journeys Into Infosec featuring @WhiteHatScum

Part Fourteen of the Unusual Journeys Into Infosec series by CybersecStu of The Many Hats Club, who talks to @WhiteHatScum about his journey.

Unusual Journeys Into Infosec featuring @WhiteHatScum

There have been many stories in this series about how people have struggled with personal circumstances and their journey into infosec. These have been inspiring in so many ways, and in this chapter we again learn of another who has persevered through some extreme situations- not only that but with a positive outlook on everything.

..Can’t change the past, only have control over now and future. You better deal with it, a person should only be limited by themselves and never by others. Better learn from everything. Don’t complain and ask for change, be the change. Life is one big lesson,better pay attention.

I’ve been speaking to WhiteHatScum for while on Twitter, and have always found him to be really positive, knowledgeable and extremely passionate about Infosec.

Until we conducted this interview, I literally had no idea about the challenges he had faced, so coffee up, eyes down and prepare to become inspired. For this is WhiteHatScum’s Unusual Journey Into Infosec!


CyberSecStu (CSS): My vision for this article (or series), is to help break the illusion that you have to follow a certain route to have a career in Infosec. So first question, what’s your story, and how did you get into Infosec?

WhiteHatScum (WHS): Let me start with motivating others to also participate in this project: your story is also special and it is never wrong to self reflect. Your story might help others and sharing is knowledge. I’ve noticed that many people in Infosec have a lot of different backgrounds and it mostly wasn’t the first choice. My story isn’t different when it comes to this part. I hope my story might inspire and help others, and don’t doubt about reaching out when you feel the need.

You’ll probably notice my positivity, this has some causes as you will be able to read in my story. Asking is never wrong, answers might be. My first shout out goes to @cybersecstu: thank you for launching this fantastic project and giving this opportunity.

I want to start with a few personal quotes:

Don’t let anybody limit you, you define your own limits. The only thing that is holding you back is the way you are thinking.

Regardless of what you have been through, you need to focus on present day and future.

We can’t change and forget the past, it is part of who you are today. But we are in control over today and the future. Let’s make it bright.

I couldn’t do this without motivation, and want to give special thanks to my YOLObus family(you know who you are: “ditch toxic people, surround yourself with good folks”), @brenno (thanks for the SHA invite and many other things), @ArjenKamphuis (wrote the fantastic book Information Security for Journalists) and of course all the other fantastic people I know.

CSS: So what made you decide upon venturing into Infosec? Where did it all start?

WHS: Like more things in life it was literally a process, I kinda grew into it. I couldn’t imagine that I would go into this direction but now I realise that the path was clear before I knew it. Due too physical problems I am forced to do a sitting job and Infosec fits with my natural curiosity, willingness to help and problem solving capabilities. It is a mindset that you need to discover.

I was 9 when I got my first computer and really liked it of course. I’d liked to figure things out and my curiosity was great; I was quite handy with that computer. But I liked it as a hobby and never computers. Some recognised that I had talent for it but I was stubborn and made my own plans. At age 11 I bought my first “smartphone”: a Orange SPV with Windows Mobile 2002 and really loved the thing.

It had so much features for that time. It even got an click-on camera. I also used GNU/Linux for the first time and I’ve cracked my first program. I booked good results at school and went to pre-university education.

Although my results weren’t bad I didn’t like school. Why I didn’t like school? I think Aaron Swartz (R.I.P.) gave the best explanation:

Real education is about genuine understanding and the ability to figure things out on your own; not about making sure every 7th grader has memorized all the facts some bureaucrats have put in the 7th grade curriculum.

My grades were still pretty fine although I didn’t like learning for my tests. Some classes were harder then the others, for some classes I needed to study more. I was not motivated for school and preferred to hang out with friends, and gave that computer more attention then school.

I also started working in horeca because my parents where quite poor. My mother is rheumatic and my father didn’t earn much. My father was mostly out for work and my mother couldn’t do much. Although I thought fairly easy about school, due too different factors it became the place and time where problems started: I developed problems with dizziness and fainting.

It started quite innocently and it didn’t limited me in the beginning but the problems became worse and worse. On a day my school needed to call 911 because I fainted and the school couldn’t get my consciousness back. Of course everybody panicked and I was also shocked: “What is this, why does this happen?”

It was time to get investigations done at the hospital and I hoped that they found a cause and solution as soon as possible. But they didn’t find anything and my problems kept getting worse. I really needed to focus on my health and this became my main priority. This also concluded that I needed to take a step back at school and to lower the pressure it was decided to step back to Higher General Secondary Education. But my fainting kept continuing and it became more intense: I already fainted once on the stairs and was passed out for 3 hours because I was alone at home.

It really became a threat and couldn’t do many things besides focusing on this problem. I’ve had many investigations and went to many hospitals. I dropped out of school. Finally a cardiology student had an seemingly good idea. Although the cause still wasn’t clear it was clear there was something wrong: my blood pressure was always good but using a heart-monitor for a week gave a shocking result: my heartbeat was at an average of 32 beats per minute.

The student advised to try a fairly new hormone preparation. This medicine actually worked but the side effect was that I gained a lot of weight. But that didn’t matter because I finally didn’t suffer from fainting anymore.

I also went to school again, I went to practical education to keep the pressure as low as possible. Although it was below my advised level I actually liked it because I discovered that I was also quite technical. I did many technical things but liked electrics and bike mechanics the most.

But still was facing problems because my parents we’re planning their divorce. Their was quite some friction at home due to this situation. My parents couldn’t live together anymore but there was a problem: my father couldn’t get a house and was living in the attic.

My mother couldn’t handle it anymore but she didn’t communicate about this. Eventually I got an call when I was at school: my mother tried to commit suicide. I immediately went home and got backed up by family. Due to some hard details I decided that I didn’t want to see my father anymore and started living at friends because my mother was in a mental facility.

Eventually my mother came back home and everything went pretty fine. I became a certified bike mechanic and started working in this branch. But although I didn’t faint anymore, I also had a other physical problem: I suffer from extreme hyper-mobility and easily misplace parts of my body. I also got a call from my doctor: you need to stop with the medicines because more side effects are known now.

I realized that I only could do sitting jobs and IT came back to my mind again. Those medicines were working on my moisture and sodium balance; I decided to follow a special diet with a lot of water and salt and this actually works quite well. Lifehack? These days I already was inspired by somebody who I’ve mentioned before, his name shall not be forgotten: Aaron Swartz.

Think deeply about things. Don’t just go along because that’s the way things are or that’s what your friends say. Consider the effects, consider the alternatives, but most importantly, just think.

I started a career in IT and learned myself multiple things like building apps and could do a little scripting. I was always interested in the technical stuff and believed in the “sharing is knowledge” principle.

I started writing technical how to’s and also did some support work. Collected many gadgets like smartphones but it didn’t satisfy me: I could do more and better things with my life. I also noticed a lot of worrying trends: I knew quite some people who became victim of identity theft and hated to see that the “Open” Internet became more privatized and centralized.

You will notice the many Aaron Swartz quotes, here is another one:

We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share them with the world. We need to take stuff that’s out of copyright and add it to the archive. We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web. We need to download scientific journals and upload them to filesharing networks. With enough of us around the world, we’ll not just send a strong message opposing the privatization of knowledge-we’ll make it a thing of the past. Will you join us?

I kept doing the things I did before but also knew that I needed to find something which gave more satisfaction. I decided to download study materials about infosec and more general things like networking. I couldn’t afford the exams but gaining knowledge was more important to me. I could help others and that gave enough satisfaction.

But worrying things came back: my mother admitted that she was becoming depressed again. Extremely happy that she admitted it on time so we could take appropriate action: we agreed she was going to a mental facility again.

That seemed to work out and the facility thought it was a good idea to put her on a weekend release. We still had doubts but it was pushed because somebody else needed the room that weekend. She took multiple medicines and we agreed with my mom, the facility and the pharmacist that I should manage her medicines.

Things went horrible wrong: she was able to get a month subscription of medicines on her own at the pharmacist. She had a appointment at home in the afternoon and I came home just before that. She wasn’t in the living room and the doorbell ranged for her appointment. I immediately ran to her bedroom and it was horrible wrong. She took all the pills……

Later at the hospital we were told that it was about a 15 minutes time difference between life and death. Her antidepressants made her more depressed and of course she was admitted to a mental facility again. But life continued and after a time it was the time to let her came home again.

With a lot of support we managed to pickup normal life again. My mother eventually got a boyfriend again and things were going good. Although it was hard for me because I always cared for my mother and suddenly her boyfriend was more important for her. Out of the nowhere they told me that she were going to live together in a other area. I couldn’t find a own house soon enough and lived a period together with a good girlfriend at her house. (sic)

I arranged a own house quickly after that but after a certain period I needed to leave that house due to legal things. First went to live at the house from my mother and her boyfriend but was told from the beginning that it would be for a limited time.

Couldn’t arrange a own house in that short period and started living at friends again. But it was hard I couldn’t get officially registered and that could cause a lot of problems. I had a other option: my grandma had an unused room. I could solve my legal things with this and it seemed like the best option. But there was also a catch: my grandma is old and she can’t take completely take care of herself. I am back at supporting again and now am trying to focus on a career in infosec.

I am making a lot of progress and will get certified soon. But I also must face reality and need own house again soon. This situation is starting to danger my progress making. But of course I also will manage this. Now share a few personal quotes:

“The best thing you can learn in life is learning and knowing about yourself, you must make progress and only you can do that.”

“You are in control over your own destiny, learn to know yourself and define your future. Nothing in life is guaranteed, learn how to fight and stay positive and strong. Questioning is never wrong, answers may be. Don’t limit yourself. Don’t ask for change, be the change”

And of course want to end with a quote from Aaron Swartz again:

“What is “this drive”? It’s the tendency to not simply accept things as they are but to want to think about them. To not be content to simply feel sad but to ask what sadness means. To not just get a bus pass but to think about the economic reasons getting a bus pass makes sense. I call this tendency the intellectual”.

Although I luckily not suffer depression I always felt inspired by Aaron. Let’s not forget his name.

This is my personal story so won’t dedicate it to them, but it is definitely a huge shout out to him.

CSS: There is a lot to process here, first of all you are a very inspirational person, and I have huge respect for your attitude and outlook given all you and your family have been through.

I have a question about your name- why do you call yourself WhiteHatScum?

WHS: I will look it up for you. It was in a thread with MalwareTech.

WHS: Was some kind of skiddo forum where there was warned for white hat scum threatening their operations. Thought about the badge, yup this was it.

CSS: So as a follow up, how did you stay positive with all that was happening around you?

WHS: Don’t ask for change, be the change. Don’t let anything limit you, expand and define your own limits. Ultimate goal in life is as simply as happiness.

Negativity blinds you, you need to be creative when thinking about solutions. Your mind is your strongest instrument. If your mind isn’t healthy, you can’t think clear and you will make more mistakes. Learn from everything and always look around you. Everybody has/had their struggles, better realize it and always keep confronting yourself. The only person who is in control over life is yourself. Sums it up quite good I suppose!

CSS: I think you eat motivational books for breakfast!! Ok given your background what advice would you give someone who s really struggling to break into Infosec?

WHS: Caffeine and nicotine is needed in the morning🤣 Never be ashamed to reach out to people, don’t think it isn’t worth it and keep in mind you need to collaborate, cooperate and communicate with other to get better results. Together we are stronger and Infosec got a nice community where you should benefit from.

Learn yourself, from there you can grow.

Keep always the social aspect in mind, how can you learn otherwise about social engineering. Never think you can’t do a certain thing, work as hard as you can to make the things you want happen.

Get resources, if you can’t find them or don’t know exactly what you need: reach out to others who might be able to help. Keep self reflecting and improving yourself. Take care over curiosity, it is a needed element.

You learn everyday, better realise that. Although certain things don’t seem to work, never give up because life is a process and we can’t foresee everything.

Change can occur at every time. Never be scared and keep expanding your limits, knowledge and curiosity. Think deeply about things, create a special mindset.

CSS: I know you mention that you shouldn’t look at the past however, if you could do it all over again would there be anything you would change?

WHS: Difficult one. Only small details I think. If I did anything different I wouldn’t be at the point and wasn’t the person I am today. Always explore multiple paths but try to not go for the easy and logical path. Isn’t that what Infosec is?

And I can’t change the past and think it is better that it stays that way.

Think this also says a lot: written by the fantastic Paul Anka, became famous thanks to the great Frank Sinatra, but best performance imho by a formerly famous Dutch person.

CSS: Right one final question. What can employers do to better help attract, retain and develop talent?

WHS: Don’t stare blind on certifications, experience and other bureaucratic bullcrap. It is all about development, also on personal level. Don’t limit them, let them be creative and realize that you need fresh thoughts.

Give opportunities, it is better to focus on that instead of trying to find the easiest and cheapest solution.

Support think tanks and get interested in the community and the people inside it. The next person you let walk away might have been the next genius like for example Aaron Swartz.

And think most important: just listen and learn. Saw a headline about 12 million new Windows malware’s per month, patching isn’t enough anymore. Focus on security & privacy by design and default. Don’t be ignorant, confront problems and try to find proper solutions for that

CSS: You hit the nail on the head! Thank you so much. I’ve re-read your stuff like 3 times.

WHS: Hehe, thank you. Need to add something in the last part: these kind of stories/selfreflection should be more important than experience or certifications. I am gonna put in on my resume, we need to think about the future and the threats IT is facing. Just refer to White Hat Scum.

Now I am in the mood and right focus to write more, thank you for that Stuart. Publishing is good and needs to get more attention. It is also a important part about creating a better digital future.

CSS: Hey its the small things that make the biggest difference, and I expect that we’ll see more from you in the future- and that is a comforting thought. Thank you for sharing your journey and quotes to inspire the readers!

So where do you start in summing up this article? I think what WhiteHatScum has demonstrated is that no matter what the challenge, or curve ball life throws at you remaining positive and pragmatic will help you get through the really, really tough times.

Moreover, negativity affects problem solving and creativity, which is a really important skillset for infosec, with all the FUD in the industry maybe we should take a leaf out of WhiteHatScum’s book and spread some love and positivity!!

In summary, collaborate, learn, push hard to make things happen, because I’m guessing any problems you are facing have a solution waiting to discovered, no matter how big it may seem right now!

The awesome image used to head this article is called "Skull Head" and it was created by Cesar Esquivel.