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My take on SANS 660, The HexFactor and Netwars

I have just attended the SANS 660 course in London, it is one of the most advanced course SANS has to offer and it did notdisappoint!

Its bootcamp format means you will start your day at 9am and finish it at 7pm! The last two hours being called a “bootcamp”, basically 2 hours of exercises linked to the content of the day that really helps understanding the different techniques that were discussed.

Speaking about content, although they state that previous programmingexperienceis “recommended”, it is not, is it mandatory!

And for the last 2 days you really need some understanding of x86 assembly to get a chance to follow the fast pace. I have to admit that the last day I was lost after lunch!

But what do you get if you buckle up and go on the ride? You get an incredible amount of information as it goes into a great level of details on how to identify and write your own exploits. But it also allows you to get a better appreciation of what to look for when reviewing the security of a network, an application, a website or a system. This is not just a “hacking” course, and the “ethical” at the end of the full course name is there for a reason.

The lecturer, Stephen Sims, is quite inspiring. Of all the lecturers I have met in the different courses I have taken those last 15 years, he is probably the one who knew his subject the most! It is also great that he is always willing to help his students understand what they are doing wrong during exercises. And it is apparently not just computer hacking that he is good at, being a core member of a signed music band going by the name of a modern hard-disk.

The highlights of the course for me were:

  • The different techniques to attack a network with the consequences of badly, or shall I say commonly, configured routers;
  • Ways to get out of a locked down desktop;
  • What to do with a buffer overflow, how to locate/change/utilise those different address pointers and defeat canaries and use gadgets.

Although at the end it will feel like you need a larger brain and many more weeks to assimilate this new information, you will also get a sense that you have only barely touched the surface of all those techniques…

Then of course, after each of those hard days working you can relax at the next door pub… and if you didn’t have enough, this is where you can take part in a hacking challenge, the Hex Factor challenge. It is basically a “capture the flag” contest where you setup a team, or go at it solo, and are faced with a number of different challenges:

  • 2 quizzes
  • 3 hacking challenges (i.e.: breaking into a network, a server, etc)
  • 3 reverse engineering challenges (i.e.: bypassing a password in an executable)
  • 3 forensic challenges (i.e.: recovering data hidden somewhere)

This is really a greatenvironment, not only to meet like minded people (although some may say it is a bad thing! ;), but also to actually practise your newlyacquiredskills. It is also good that each of those challenges have different level, allowing anyone to participate, from the manager to the engineer!This event takes place in a number of conferences and is organised byvolunteers. So I’d like to congratulate everyone who was involved to make it such an entertaining event!

Finally, this year there was the Netwars challenge. It has a similar format as the HexFactor one and ran for 2 days (after the Hexfactor was finished). It is an individual hacking contest with increasingly more difficult challenges. The fact you see the top 10 scores on a big screen live, the buzz of having a large room full of people hacking away, the organisers making sure everything is going smoothly and that everyone feels confortable really made those 2 nights special.

To conclude I will say that, again, SANS did notdisappoint. It was a top quality course part of a great conference with huge opportunities to network and practice your skills. So I can happily recommend for anyone to attend the 660 class, and also, if you really want to make the most of it you have to stay in a close by hotel, be ready not to sleep too much and embrace the geekiness around you :)

SANS, Stephen, Thank you very much!

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