Robin: I am Robin Miller; some of you know me as “Roblimo.” And we are talking today with Alex Heid, who is a senior security researcher at HackMiami. Alex, hello, and what does HackMiami do?
Alex: Hey Rob, thanks for having me on. HackMiami is one of the first hackerspaces that came out of South Florida. We are essentially a group of information security professionals that have been in South Florida for the last several years where we formally incorporated it in 2009. And we started off as a non-profit organization and moved into being a for-profit information security firm. And we have biweekly meetings at the Planet Linux Caffe in Coral Gables, and we also have an annual conference that we hold on Miami Beach.
Robin: Okay. I heard about you guys through the annual conference, so explain to me here, you have employees like yourself, right?
Alex: Correct. It is essentially just a board of directors. There are about three of us on the board of directors, and [Kurt] really is about I would say, probably about 20 to 30 members and it is a fairly informal organization and it works a lot like a contracting firm. When work comes in we pass it on to those that would be most skilled for the job. And we are also we are providing a lot of opportunities for information security pros, to kind of do some moonlighting in addition to their full time jobs. And it also provides a good way for people to find employment, and get started in their careers and land a gig, so there is a lot of recruiters and a lot of industry folks who participate in our organization. So there’s always opportunity to go places career-wise.
Robin: So how did this group get started, this HackMiami group?
Alex: Well, we started off just originally by going to the Florida International University college campus, and jiggling doorknob handles in the computer science building, and we found some open rooms, and eventually became friends with a lot of computer science students that were there. And from that point on, we’ve had our gatherings fairly regularly, and it became from every two weeks to having the annual conference. And we started off, we were at FIU Florida International University and then we moved from there to various restaurants and public meeting facilities that would host us, and there isn’t really any restaurant in South Florida that is going to turn away two dozen hungry hackers on a Saturday afternoon. So it has provided a really good forum for us all to get together. And now we still have our meetings at the Planet Linux Caffe in Coral Gables, and even though we are sort of evolving and moving into our creating our, opening up our office and having a full blown hackerspace we still like having biweekly meetings at local businesses to support them, and bring them business. Especially, when it is a place like the Planet Linux Caffe which is a Linux themed coffee shop down in Coral Gables.
Robin: I have never heard of it. I am four hours’ drive away. Should I come?
Alex: Yeah, they do special events all the time, so if you just keep on their site planetlinuxcaffe.com you could find all the stuff that they are doing. It is definitely a place that’s worth checking out, if you are ever in Miami.
Robin: I will definitely get my camcorder and come there. Meanwhile, meanwhile, you guys started out where you were, so can I just come and join, just wander in?
Alex: Yes, absolutely. All our meetings are open to the public and they are held in public spaces kind of along the lines of how the 2600 meetings used to be when they had them down here. And anyone could just walk in, introduce themselves, just kind of hang out, listen, learn all the meetings are structured as the first half of the meetings will have presentations, where researchers will go through their latest projects, many types of exploits or vulnerabilities that have been disclosed that are being researched on. And then the second half of the meetings are actual hands-on labs of how to actually do the stuff that was presented on. And so we try to have a good mix of information and hands-on stuff. And that combined with the networking opportunities that come with being in a group like that it is definitely something that you find viable.
Robin: However, it sounds to me like the general ‘Well I use Windows, and it is getting blurry, my screen is and I think a hacker had hacked my computer’ this isn’t your preferred attendee, is it?
Alex: No. Since we are hosted at a place called Planet Linux Caffe usually the people who just kind of wander in are already fairly well versed in alternative computing methods like Linux and so forth. So I would say the average experience level of HackMiami participants would already be in the moderate to advanced, but we certainly don’t want to discourage new people from coming out and learning. Everyone’s real cool, everyone is real open, and we are out to just get information out and help people build their careers and learn how to ____6:21internet.
Robin: So what if somebody want to start something similar in their town, what would you recommend, any advice for the fans, Alex?
Alex: I highly recommend people starting up hackerspaces in their own cities. So go to their visit hackerspaces.org, it is a Wiki style listing of all the various hackerspaces around the world, I would start just by throwing up a listing on that website for your hometown, and you will be surprised if it starts to show up, and just by nature of being on the hackerspaces.org website and being listed there, you will find a pretty good strong community drop there. That was originally the first place that we publicly listed our meetings, and also using things like traditional social networking sites like Meetup.com or Twitter or Facebook are also very helpful to promoting the gathering. But primarily it is getting ingrained within the hackerspace movement of creating a listing on hackerspaces.org would probably be the best first step.
Robin: It also sounds like something that local Linux users groups might morph into.
Alex: Oh absolutely. In fact, we do a lot of co-branded meetings and a lot of projects with South Florida Linux users groups as well, so there is a lot of membership crossover between the different Linux users groups and HackMiami and also industry organizations like the ISSA or OWASP.
Robin: So do they support you with funds?
Alex: Not so much funds but people. There will never be anyone actually sending anyone a check or anything like that, but probably the best talent out of all those organizations will end up gravitating towards the hackerspaces. It is really one of those if you build it they will come type situations.
Robin: And you guys get work? What kind of . Really I mean for real?
Alex: Oh yes, primarily the majority of our incoming contracts is for penetration testing and vulnerability assessment engagements; we also have a lot of speaking and training engagements as wellthat we get booked for. Primarily it is the board of directors will either take the job itself or they will pass it on to someone who will be able to carry it out in a more efficient manner. And since we are such a large group with such an array of talent, we get all sorts of different inquiries for all sorts of different things. Our primary revenue generator is penetration testing and also our training seminars.
Robin: You know what? It sounds like fun. I hope a lot of Slashdot readers start something similar where they live, and the ones in Miami meet up with you guys. Thank you Alex, it has been a pleasure.
Alex: Thanks for having me.