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Patrick Jones wasn’t always one of the cyber elite. Long before he joined Booz Allen, he began his career as a system administrator.
He admits security wasn't always his top priority, concentrating more on just making things work. That changed when he met some co-workers who specialized in something called penetration testing. Patrick thought it sounded pretty cool, so he trained to switch roles.
“As a pen tester, I was throwing the exploits, trying to take over boxes,” he says. “We attacked systems from the point of view of the guy who wants to steal your information.”
“On any given day you might learn how to fly a new drone—or see if you can write something that will knock it out of the sky.”
- Patrick Jones, Booz Allen cyber elite
By demonstrating where companies needed to strengthen their networks, he helped protect them from the actual bad guys. Now Patrick’s 12 years of pen testing invaluably informs the work he does at Booz Allen. Here he specializes in reverse malware engineering—taking the malicious software used to exploit vulnerabilities and tearing it open to see how it functions.
“When I’m reverse engineering something, I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, this is what they’re doing,’ because I’ve thrown that same exploit,” he says.
For Patrick, this dual perspective is an essential part of what it means to be a cyber elite, and that’s a big reason why the SANS Institute recently named Booz Allen one of the best places to work for top cyber talent.
Our ability to recruit and retain top-tier cyber pros allows us to build teams with the true diversity of skill sets required to overcome our clients’ toughest, most specialized cybersecurity challenges.
“When we’re building a cyber incident response team for an auto manufacturer, we can pull in somebody who’s spent the last five years tearing apart cars for the FBI, then partner them with an auto industry expert, and someone else with half-a-decade experience working incident response for TSA,” says Alexandra Heckler, a Booz Allen cybersecurity strategist. “Working together as a team, our cybersecurity experts are unstoppable.”
Understanding both the attacker and the defender is a key part of the equation.
“Having a team that can think like an adversary is really important to staying ahead of that adversary,” Alexandra adds.
It’s her job to consider different cyber attack scenarios—how they might unfold, how to intervene, how to block them from ever happening at all. She’s currently helping Fortune 50 automakers develop cyber programs that account for risks beyond traditional IT.
“The cyber threat landscape changes constantly as we introduce new connectivity into everything around us,” she says. “Once you’re connected, you open yourself up to potential vulnerabilities. If you don’t understand cyber, that risk goes up exponentially.”
Driven by money or politics, malevolent hackers are constantly finding new ways to infiltrate networks and avoid detection. Staying ahead of them means constantly updating your skills.
That’s why, “as a cyber elite, you need to be curious,” says Andrew Payne, another Booz Allen reverse malware engineer. “When you’re curious, you’re willing to learn.”
Andrew lists Twitter as an essential means of satisfying his appetite for cyber learning. “It’s probably one of the better resources due to its immediacy,” he says. “I follow a number of people who are heavily involved in the industry, even if not well known.”
Patrick maintains his edge using a variety of the professional development resources that Booz Allen provides for its employees. Those include mentoring sessions, forums, hackathons, conferences, and places like the Forge Hacker Space, located in our Annapolis Junction, Maryland, office.
“We go to the Forge Hacker Space to learn hardware hacking. On any given day you might learn how to fly a new drone—or see if you can write something that will knock it out of the sky,” he says.
Resources like that are a big part of why the SANS Institute honored the firm. According to SANS, “employer-supported training to maintain the currency of skills [is] one of the two highest-rated factors that impact retention of highly technical cybersecurity professionals."
Do you have the elite cyber skills necessary to protect the world’s most critical online networks from those who would do them harm? Head to our careers page to search and apply to the latest cybersecurity jobs.