The latest guest of KAPTÁR Success Stories is Zoltán Balázs, the technical director of MRG-Effitas, ethical hacker and IT security expert.
Hi Zoli, thanks for accepting my invitation!
Hi Bálint, thank you for the opportunity and the good coffee! (laughs)
Tell me, how does one become an ethical hacker? Why have you chosen this career path?
I’ve been interested in this topic since I was 18. But back then it was just an interest. I know many people who have hacked professionally since they were young. Not me.
The question which path to choose came up in university… (Zoli graduated at BME-VIK as IT engineer – edit.) I didn’t like programming, so I skipped the larger part of the technical subjects. But IT security stayed, and I thought since I’ve always been curious about it, why not try now.
Has it turned out as a good decision?
Absolutely! It was one of the best decisions in my life. It was the first time that I felt how it is to do something that is not an obligation but a hobby and entertainment. It’s my vocation and passion.
What happened after graduation?
I worked for banks and started there with defence systems. It was a very exciting period. I got a good insight in how they protect people’s money. A little bit later, I switched to consultancy. We were still in the financial sector, we tested, searched for bugs and made recommendations for fixing them.
What did you get most out of this field?
I could experience at the very beginning of my career, what it is like on both sides. I could make lots of experience both on the defence side and on the attacker side. It was easier to build something on this solid basis. I think, to get the big picture about something, you have to know both sides – in this profession, the defence is just as important as the attack.
Isn’t that typical for this profession?
No. There are many great specialists, who stood on only one side through their whole career and I think this “only” shows them half of the world. Best is to know and try both and to dive deeper into it.
If experts have never worked on the defence, they often give advice which are completely unrealistic to do for the given company.
What are you like as a person?
Most of the hackers are quite geeky. I’m not different.
My favourite joke explains my way of thinking:
A programmer’s wife asks him to do the groceries:
– Bring a piece of butter, and if they have eggs, bring 10!
He returns with 10 pieces of butter and his wife looks at him blankly, so he explains:
– They had eggs!
So you like to understand things in the literal sense… (laughs)
Yes. I tend to understand everything in the exact same way it is phrased. This causes some communication difficulties sometimes, even between programmers. I see it in my team. The more we become the more focus we have to put on communication.
The word “hacker” originally meant: a person who tries to use something in a way its producers haven’t thought of. I try to do this in many areas of life. This is some kind of childlike curiosity, which unfortunately fades in adult life, even though it’s so great and useful and even funny.
What is your life mostly about at the moment? What are your hobbies besides hacking?
I do hack a lot, but sports are very important to me. Swimming, running and biking mostly.
I love to travel, but this often comes with my job, because I get invited to do presentations in conferences around the world. I’ve nearly travelled half of the world.
The more I travel, the more I see that people are the same everywhere. There is not that big of a difference as we might think first. The only difference I noticed, was that there are countries with more of a certain type of people, where in other countries it’s less of them.
Why are these important parts of your life? What value do they add?
Both recharge me. Without it, my life would be empty and grey.
When I work out, I get tired, but the next day I have much more energy both physically and mentally.
Besides the joy of hacking, it is important to me that I share this knowledge with others. Together with Zsombor, we organize the Hackersuli meetup. Anyone can join and participate for free and can get an insight into the exciting and mysterious world of hacking. Sometimes we make a joke about that we don’’ understand why the meetup is so popular – we have around 900 members at the moment. But actually the only reason why it is so popular is that we both do it with 100% passion.
What a nice final thought – thank you very much, Zoli!
Thank you for the opportunity!