Name – Ralph Echemendia, ‘The Ethical Hacker’
Job title – Cybersecurity specialist
Twitter – @RalphR3m1X
Q. You’re known as ‘The Ethical Hacker’. Could you tell us a bit more about how you came to have that name?
It was given to me when I used to actively teach hacking classes years ago. Students would have questions around motive and I always explained that there was a level of social responsibility involved. Someone said so you are ‘The Ethical Hacker’ and the name circulated and stuck.
Q. Cybersecurity is currently a huge issue across sectors, and education is no exception. What are the unique threats that this sector faces?
Education has always had a lack of funding for cybersecurity operations, as do other areas, like healthcare. What’s unacceptable is that these are truly critical sectors to humanity. Education is the pillar of society and our most powerful tool. While some of the brightest minds and research come from academia, many of these organisations lack operational safety in the area of cyber. They just lack the budgetary support. Luckily these bright students help, but in most cases cybersecurity is allotted less than 10% of the entire IT budget.
Yet it is the most critical part of IT. The availability and integrity of data in these environments is critical.
Q. What was your own educational journey like? Did you always have an interest in computing, and did you follow any other educational pathway, like arts?
Oh what a journey it has been! My true love was and still lives in music. My hobby was computers. I would have never thought that my hobby would become my career.
I am one of those people who didn’t finish high school and didn’t go to college. I went straight into industry when I was 20. One of my first jobs was as a system and network engineer for Oracle; I had no idea what Oracle was. I started to point out flaws in systems and code and that became security. That word didn’t even exist when I started in the professional world of IT.
I then started taking all kinds of training courses that my employers would pay for and I took as many as I could, even if the technology was not something I directly worked with. I soaked up as much as I could.
But I would say that most of the most valuable knowledge I gained came from the interaction with other hackers – BBSs [Bulletin Board Systems] and later on the Internet. Hacking is about learning fast and deep.
You often find things and ways to make technology do what the creator of said tech would have never thought of. It’s the most creative process in the computing world.
Q. What would be your one piece of advice to young people who are interested in a career in cybersecurity?
If it piques your interest, do it. Immerse yourselves in this world. The more time you invest and the more you learn the more valuable you will become and there will never be a shortage of work. This is an industry that will always have a shortage of people. Find what you like in it. Programming, networking, reverse engineering, penetration testing, forensics… there is so much to do, and I am sure that you will find the area that you will excel in. Just do it.