Interactions, Trust and Google Chrome: my Veracode article

Glenn Norman on Veracode

During my time as Project Manager of Hacker Highschool (2012-2016) I had the opportunity to write articles for several security publications. This article, “Interactions, Trust, and Google Chrome”, appeared on January 14, 2016, and looked at the obvious and not-so-obvious trusts we give Google and interactions we allow with them.

I’m not a Google Hater; in fact I find their tools really useful in my consulting work. But I’m very cautious about sharing certain things, for instance my wifi network passwords. Check it out for a fuller discussion.

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My Years With Hacker Highschool: Should We Be Training Hackers?

Glenn Norman

Flash forward from my first conversations on LinkedIn with Pete Herzog in 2010 to February of 2015, and one of the most persistent topics about Hacker Highschool: Should we be doing what we were doing at all? Were we training evil little script-kiddies, or maybe al-Qaida?

That whole line of thinking leads straight back to the problem of definition: “hacker” means something very different to the public than it does to the hacking community itself. Yes, we were in fact trying to bring young people into the hacking community, but no, we were not leading anyone to a life of crime. Far from it. Examples of ominous consequences are sprinkled liberally through Hacker Highschool, and discussion of exactly how visible you are when you’re doing inquisitive things.

The Hechinger Report tackled exactly this issue in the article “Should we train more students to be hackers?” by Chris Berdik, who defines it brilliantly (see links below):

For many people, the word ‘hacker’ conjures up shadowy criminals unleashing malicious cyber attacks. Beyond the headlines, however, there’s a whole world of hacking that has nothing to do with criminality and everything to do with becoming inventive, autonomous and more secure members of a society immersed in technology. Broadly speaking, these young hackers fall into two groups — security hackers, who learn how computer networks can be attacked in order to better defend them, and hackathon hackers, who compete in all-night coding binges to invent new applications and re-engineer hardware.

Notice that there’s no major third group called “criminals.” One way or another, it’s all about the engineering, about figuring things out and making things work and keeping things running. There’s a definite mentality here, maybe similar to aspiring chessmaster mentality or violin virtuoso-in-training mentality.

Chris quotes me:

“It’s the hacker mentality,” and technology employers can’t get enough of it, says Glenn Norman, a network security consultant who teaches the subject at the University of New Mexico.

Norman also teaches security hacking to high school students at an after-school club in Albuquerque called Warehouse 508. He’s a co-developer of “Hacker High School,” a nine-lesson curriculum published by the Institute for Security and Open Methodologies (ISECOM), a nonprofit network security consultancy.

The whole reason I was into all of this was the grins I get when my students open a whole new set of digital eyes on the universe. But I could see, as my teaching career approached two decades, a long, steep decline in younger students. My security courses brought lots of mature network admins and developers, but fewer and fewer students under 30. Were high school students losing interest? Or were they, I began to suspect, being steered away? Consider:

As college hackathons proliferated, high school hackers started to filter into the competitions. Soon, they started high-school hackathons. One of the first was held in March, 2014, at Bergen County Academies High School in Hackensack, New Jersey. Jared Zoneraich, now a senior at the school, organized the all-night coding bash (hackBCA) along with other kids he’d met at college hackathons. Four hundred students showed up….

I think there’s plenty of interest, if the will can be found. I’ve worked on too many hiring committees in my consulting career seeking highly qualified and specialized people that I knew would eventually be hired on an H-1B visa. There’s a huge debate on both sides about whether there really is a STEM worker shortage, whether the US can or does generate as many tech workers as the enterprise needs, whether we really need to bring tens of thousands of tech workers from overseas when we have American workers training their own cheap replacements.

So I hooked up with, and then managed, Hacker Highschool, and promoted it locally and nationally. It was a time-sucker and I loved it. But it wasn’t sustainable for me.

Hacker High School’s founder, Pete Herzog, managing director at ISECOM, says that despite the curriculum’s popularity, it’s becoming too costly to support and update, and won’t survive much longer without corporate sponsorship.

How true.

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My Years With Hacker Highschool: In The Beginning

Glenn at work

I first started talking with Pete Herzog through LinkedIn in 2010. His pocket institute, ISECOM, had produced some really interesting material, including the Open Source Security Testing Methodology Manual (OSSTMM) and Hacker Highschool (HHS). Lots of his ideas were great, but wrapped in language that made them really difficult to understand. In my innocence I thought, “Hey, I can contribute by drastically improving the quality of the prose here.” Soon I was working on a lesson, and by 2012 Pete had asked me to take over as Project Manager of Hacker Highschool.

It was a fun, and hysterically busy, beginning. We charted out a whole series of lessons beyond the original 12 released in 2004, and enlisted what grew to become a cadre of contributors over 200 strong. There’s a trail of articles and updates by me, Pete and many others that chart that effort. It was a ton of fun, and I met a lot of great people, but it also consumed every bit of my free time for several years, and most important, didn’t make money.

Eventually we tried to improve the financial situation, but that’s a story for another post. (We weren’t successful.)

Anthony Freed, a cool open-source writer and commentator, penned the article “Hacker Highschool Revamps Lesson One on Being a Hacker” (November 29, 2012) at (cache at, Perma link at ):

Hey kids, wanna get your hack on? The developers of Hacker Highschool, a free cybersecurity awareness and education project, have just issued a newly revamped version of the organization’s first lesson plan titled Being a Hacker, and will soon be reissuing updated curricula for all 23 of the course’s tutorials.

Pete described it as “open, free”, which is not to be confused with Open Source (the 2004 version was copyrighted, and version 2 was released under a Creative Commons-attribs-no-derivs “license”):

“This open, free project is a relaunch of the lessons first published in 2004. Over 60 volunteers, led by me and managed by Glenn Norman have been working months to provide a total of 23 lessons. The first of which has been released today, ‘Lesson 1, Being a Hacker’. The final lesson is on Trolling,” Herzog said.

Ah, those optimistic early days. I wish we could have made HHS a viable ongoing enterprise, but there’s no money in “open and free.” There is, however, a viable business model for shared community education about hacking, and I’m working to develop that now (2017) at School for Hackers (S4H): I’ll have a lot more to say about S4H in coming posts, but for now I’ll just say it’s NOT about teaching teens cyber-security awareness; it’s very much for adults.

Stay tuned.

Welcome to the updated

Glenn at work

If you’ve followed me for long, you’ll recognize that this site made a dramatic change recently. All the content is still here; it’s simply riding on a different platform, which I hope we’ll all find easier to work with. The old platform didn’t let me set up comments, but going forward most of my material will allow them from registered users.

So here at you’ll find my personal posts, discussions and class materials. Keep in mind that my “companion” site,, will house our growing hacker community, with the understanding that we’re talking about “clever engineers,” not “criminal engineers.”

There will be plenty of material coming on both. Thanks for following, and don’t hesitate to drop me a line.


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Hacker Highschool: Foreword and Copyright Statement

Foreword From Glenn Norman, Project Manager, 2012-1016


As I’ve described in an earlier entry, I first got in touch with Pete Herzog and ISECOM ( in 2010 through LinkedIn because, as a professional editor, I thought I could make a contribution to the writing and layout of some of his products. Initially I thought about working on the OSSTMM (, but accepted Pete’s offer to work on lessons for Hacker Highschool ( In 2012 Pete asked me to take on the job of unpaid volunteer Project Manager for the Hacker Highschool Version 2 Rewrite Project, which I accepted.

Over the next four years I managed over 10,000 emails, almost 100 contributors and over 200 supporters of the project. Some of the lessons went through as many as 50 drafts, all of which I managed and edited. I learned a tremendous lot about hacking, hackers and hacker culture, most of it positive. By 2016, however, financial pressures forced me to relinquish the role of Project Manager.

The Hacker Highschool materials are open and free to the public, released under a Creative Commons Non-Commercial, No Deriviatives, Attribution Required License, which is an extension of copyright not formally embodied in law. Formal, legal copyright, of course, is always owned by the creator of a work, unless the creator is paid, or signs away rights in a contract. This means that all materials contributed to Hacker Highschool remain the copyright property of the contributors.

After my departure, ISECOM chose to keep our contributions but remove the names of several people from the Contributors pages, including mine.

So to preserve record of the contributions of the many good people of the Hacker Highschool rewrite project, here are the lessons that are my work product as the volunteer Project Manager of the Hacker Highschool Version 2 Rewrite Project from 2012-2016.

Parts of these lessons are Copyright © 2016 Glenn Norman, including editing, arrangement, verifying and integrating contributed materials, and original text. All rights are reserved, though these documents may be freely distributed provided this statement remains intact.

All other materials remain the copyrighted property of their respective contributors, beyond their use and acknowledgment in Hacker Highschool Version 2.

Review: CompTIA® A+ 220-901 and 220-902 Cert Guide, by Mark Edward Soper (2016)

Here’s another in my series on reviews of the textbooks I use to teach my classes. In this case it’s an A+ text from Pearson with some pretty nice online value-adds.

CompTIA® A+ 220-901 and 220-902 Cert Guide, by Mark Edward Soper

Copyright © 2017 by Pearson Education, Inc.

ISBN-13: 978-0-7897-5652-7

ISBN-10: 0-7897-5652-8

Early study materials for the A+ were rough and ready, often terse little volumes that assumed a lot of foreknowledge. We’ve come a long way in the 13 years I’ve held, and later taught, this certification, to the point that you can find great material in book, ebook and online course formats, covering a lot of learning styles. Mark Soper’s CompTIA® A+ 220-901 and 220-902 Cert Guide is an in-depth Cert Guide, in Pearson-speak, as opposed to their usually shorter, drill-oriented Exam Cram series. I’ve taught both formats and generally prefer the greater detail of the cert guides, but I was impressed by David Prowse’s Exam Cram ebook on this same topic.

The “value added” materials have been getting better too. Most publishers have long offered CDs with test and study materials. But as optical drives have been going out of style while online storage has come on strong, I’m seeing almost everyone leaving the CD behind, and using the CD sleeve in the back of books for a slip of paper with an Activation Code, as this book does. I initially thought, Oh, there go the goodies, but I’ve found the reverse is true. More on this below.

Prose style really matters, too. My students make loud noises if reading the text gives them headaches, which magically transfers the headaches to me. From an earlier review:

When it comes to highly technical books, there are plenty of them that are written by committee, and read like it. I’ve got nothing against a dry, factual style, but my students seem to be more willing to read single-author books with a breezier prose style. [Prowse’s] book falls into the second category, and has the kind of comfortable, personable text that makes reading 982 pages a lot less of a chore. By comparison, the 901-902 text by Mike Meyers runs 1472 pages of chatty first-person conversation, while the text from Docter, Dulaney and Skandier is 1312 pages of formal discussion (what did I say about writing by committee?).

The previous edition of this Cert Guide was written by Soper, Prowse and Scott Mueller, and was my text of choice teaching my A+ 801-802 classes. It ran to 950 pages of text, plus end material (and included a CD). In the current edition, Soper goes it alone while Prowse works on the video course and the Exam Cram book, and Mueller apparently works on the 23rd edition of his amazing Upgrading and Repairing PCs series. I wondered if the quality would suffer or improve, and if the character of the book would change, but Soper keeps up the really excellent written material thickly scattered with high-res grayscale photos, screen shots and key topics tables. Possibly to the down side, the book now contains about 1150 pages of text, plus end material. It’s still one of the shorter texts, but they are all becoming behemoths.

I have to say I like Soper’s prose. He sticks to shorter sentences and obviously has a talent for stating things clearly. There is a minority among my students who like the more chatty, informal and sometimes funny language of Meyers, but they have to be willing to make a 1500-page commitment to that book.

Chapters are laid out clearly, and divided into topics with plenty of illustrations. Every book on this topic has to decide how deeply to descend into details. Do students need to know the specifics of the latest upcoming Intel memory controller topology? The hard-core geeks are going to love it. Others are going to find those details quickly obsolete, but do need to understand how the once-literal North and  South Bridges are now mostly theoretical, with chipsets doing all kinds of things differently.

What really matters is that the materials match up to the A+ test objectives, which this book does quite well. Ending each chapter are the Exam Preparation Tasks, which include memory tasks like definitions alongside exercises like using diagnostic tools to research hardware details and upgrade options. Then come Review Questions, with Answers and Explanations conveniently following. The explanations are nice, because they’re really explanations, unlike too many of the ones I see on sample tests.

One of the biggest changes for the new certification is the much-changed list of operating systems covered. XP is out, finally, but Vista lingers on, along with Windows 7, 8 and 8.1. Windows 10 is not covered. But OSX is getting a lot more discussion, which matches the workplace I see, mostly Windows but with a contingent of determined Mac users.

Here, each book handles this differently. The Exam Cram splits OS topics out among the main test topics, so there’s not one place that solely discusses Windows 7, for instance.

Docter, Dulaney and Skandier do the opposite, with 50-60 page chapters on each major OS, which might be a good idea for organization, but leads to a lot of duplicate discussions of installation and deployment, for instance.

In this book Soper manages to cover the same detail in about 35 pages each for the OSX/Linux chapter and the iOS/Android chapter, with less obvious duplication. Depending on whether you’re using the textbook later as a reference (go with duplication) or as a learning tool (don’t torture me when I have to read the whole book), this book may be the best option for students.

The most important work students can do for certification exams is taking lots of sample tests. There are resources online, of course, and many are quite good. Brain dumps, on the other hand, are worse than useless because they’ll mislead you or invite you to believe wrong answers. Note that tests and questions provided by real CompTIA Authorized Partners (like Pearson) tend to be much more realistic and closely aligned with the actual test questions, for instance the frequent use of scenario questions. There are lots of practice sites and sources of sample questions online, and students should use them – with a healthy awareness that sometimes these questions are wrong: wrongly worded, contradictory or just plain far off topic. Once you’re so advanced that you can spot these errors, generic online practice tests can be useful for learning to spot B.S.

Getting access to Pearson’s online materials takes a few steps, but isn’t any harder than registering for Facebook. You’ll download the Pearson test engine, fire it up, and use the Activation procedure to get and install the sample tests for this book. There are a total of four tests, which you can further tune to concentrate on questions by chapter/objective. Mix and match until you’ve seen every question several times. I always recommend saving at least one of these tests as a final proving challenge before taking the real certification exam; if you can ace a test you haven’t seen before, you’re likely ready for the real test.

Back in the book, there are also some memory drills, but the nicest value-add-on is the three hours of video you can watch from Prowse’s video course. They are highly worth the investment in time, I guarantee.

So I come to the things that matter when I choose a text for my A+ classes.

First, the price. At $60 this book isn’t cheap, but it’s not stratospheric for a college-level text either. Its main competitors are in the $50-60 zone.

Next, does it align closely with the CompTIA A+ Objectives? This book covers them without going in-depth on topics or technologies that will never show up on the test.

Then, how long is it? 1000 pages is tough, and 1500 pages is a huge task for my students, but few books in this area are smaller. At least this one is on the light end of the scale.

Finally, what’s it like to read the actual prose? Does it sound like it was written by an engineer or a  lawyer, or is it more like a friendly discussion of interesting technology? Soper does very well in this area.

Ultimately, you can’t go wrong with this book. All by itself it’s good; with the online materials it’s top-notch. I’ll be trying it out in my next round of classes.

Disclaimer: Obviously I am a teacher, working with two major universities and many smaller clients. Some of the books I review are provided by my employers, but many of them come to me directly through my reviewer accounts with Pearson, Microsoft and Cisco (as this book did). They all know that sending me books is no guarantee mercy on my part.

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Excellent TechRepublic Article: “10 mistakes to avoid when troubleshooting IT problems”

Don’t you hate those clickbait “10 Great Pictures of …” or “10 Mistakes Men Make,” etc. etc.?

I say, as always, consider the source. For instance, TechRepublic is a pretty darn reliable, high-quality site for the hard-core geek (and you are one if you’re here reading this).

Whether trying to diagnose a single device or dealing with the urgency of a company-wide outage, there are solid best practices on what NOT to do. With that in mind, here are 10 things to avoid doing, so you can limit the pain and keep things running as smoothly as possible….

Yes! Exactly! Please show me your painful mistakes so I can wince and try to avoid them forever (at least try). Check out the list and see what you think:

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The Madness of the USBs (and Thunderbolts and alternate modes…)

I see rough issues coming for A+ students in terms of identifying the sudden proliferation of USB versions and ports, Thunderbolt versions, “alternate modes” and “multiplex modes.” Consumers are going to face lots of compatibility problems, because there are so many modes: some cables do one thing, while other cables that look identical do different things. And how about Thunderbolt over USB? Nightmare is a legitimate description.

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A fellow consultant asks me to define Pen Testing and Vuln Testing

Recently my friend and fellow IT consultant Marc Mintz (Mintz Infotech, asked me to clarify some of what I do for his clients. Here’s his question:


Glenn: I don’t know if my target market really understands pen and vulnerability testing, but since they should, I’d like to have some information for them.

I. What is Pen and Vulnerability testing

II. What are the benefits of Pen and Vulnerability testing.

III.What businesses are required to have this security testing?

IV. What is involved – what does it look like and how is your organization impacted during the process.

V.Costs, both in down time and $$$

VI. Everything else I don’t know enough to include.


So here’s my response:


Often shortened to “pen testing,” this is a limited subset of security analysis. In the certification world, you’ll find distinctions between Pen Testers and Security Analysts, with pen testers being more glorified but analysts doing the real work.

Pen testers look for openings they can penetrate. Simple as that. Except it’s not simple. The real question is, what are you testing


The critical consideration is the scope of the pen testing. For a web application, the app itself, its hosting and its web server software would be the scope. Notice that this is very limited: it does not include, for instance, any email services that may be involved – and may be critical.

For a corporate network, the scope might include all external IP addresses, all external email, chat, messaging, voicemail and VOIP services, all hosting arrangements, all data network providers – or only a subset of these, or even perhaps far more than these, depending on the proposed scope of the pen test.


Are you just looking for potential vulnerable points, or are you actually trying to perform a penetration? These are two very different things. Real pen testing might actually bring your business down (I might break things trying to get in), while simply scanning for vulns shouldn’t (unless badly done, which is a real possibility). But finding a list of vulns does *not* actually determine if your business can be penetrated; in fact, thinking you’re safe if you fix that list is a big vulnerability of its own.
If you really want to know that you’re cast-iron set-in-concrete secure, turn me loose to do full pen testing, and I’ll let ‘er rip. I’ll find a hole somewhere, in the network layers or at the human layer (depending on scope). Hardly anyone actually does this except the government. Most people want vuln testing, which gives them a solid to-do list of things to fix. This is the way to go for proof of compliance or due diligence or similar legal concepts. Security? You likely get a little security out of vuln testing, though not as much as some people think. But if you’re really getting ferocious about security, you want something much deeper generally called security analysis. A security analyst might note, for instance, that your firewall device has a hardware fault or your email server is an open relay, and that you should fix them.


There are somewhat similar requirements across several industries, but of course specifics have to be slavishly followed. For HIPAA-compliant organizations, an annual Risk Analysis includes things like pen testing, auditing and user training. For schools, for the most part, they only need to deal with simple records storage security under FERPA. Military and mil-contractor organizations, on the other hand, have to follow FIPS guidelines, which require frequent and fearsome pen testing. Business and financial outfits have various Dodd-Frank and Gramm–Leach–Bliley security requirements that include risk analysis, which in turn includes pen testing, user training, auditing and so much more.

My point is that pen testing is one tool in the box for proof of compliance, but it’s not the only one. Not by a long shot.


Any hacker worth his/her salt is going to work in ways they hope they won’t be detected, assuming data theft is the goal. Pen testing, on the other hand, is frequently (dismayingly) done during business hours, very much to the detriment of the business’s operations. That’s why I see statements in contracts like “testing must be halted immediately if the customer’s operations are affected.” I’m sorry, but this is ignorant.

On the other hand, denial of service is a legitimate goal, though you don’t really want to test it. You’ll just be testing the resilience of your data and hosting providers’ networks, and that is a very big no-no. Pen testing that results in DOS, then, is extremely, specifically bad. If you’re signing a contract for pen testing, make sure it includes provisions that testing be done during non-business hours, if you have off hours.


Costs are always an issue of balance: What does it cost you to fail to comply? You’d better be very clear on your legal requirements to answer that question. What does it cost you to audit or pen test? Probably, but not certainly, less. The issue is that you’re not playing poker, where there are odds and perhaps sustainable losses. You’re playing Russian roulette, where loss means the potential for total destruction of your business or even more devastating losses for your customers, clients or patients. If you think I’m trying to scare you to lessen any sticker shock, I am.

For a full-scale, mil-spec pen test against a large organization, expect price tags somewhere in the $15,000-25,000 (each) range for mandatory thrice-annual tests. The critical thing here is that setup is the biggest expense (i.e. takes the longest time), so a single-incident pen test for a smaller business could easily approach or surpass this price tag, depending on the scope of testing. This makes understanding your scope, which is to say your compliance requirements, the critical point.

Even more, because pen testers are in strong demand, at least in certain sectors, most of them don’t want to deal with smaller businesses. The risks aren’t worth the legal issues, which are substantial. This means those smaller orgs are often better served by training internal staff to perform pen testing than they are by hiring outside contractors. In some cases this doesn’t fulfill legal requirements for testing to be performed by a separate institution, but if you’re at a scale that requires full-scale external-provider pen testing for compliance, you already know this.


The landscape is changing very rapidly here. If you’re hosting all your servers and services internally, serious pen testing could temporarily shatter your working infrastructure. Do not ask me how I know this. In some situations this in unavoidable because extreme security or data location requirements force you to do your own hosting this way.

On the other hand, if you’re utilizing contemporary infrastructure there’s no reason you should have significant or any downtime. Host your documentation on Google and your pen tester is testing Google, not you (which will get them in some serious trouble). Host your servers on Amazon and they’re testing Amazon’s cloud resiliency, and asking for some very unwelcome attention.

Yes, keep your secret sauce on your own hardware, but otherwise don’t run your own steam engines, generators or servers. Don’t worry, though. One round of pen testing (really, vuln testing) will show you where the easy openings are. Just remember that if your pen testers bring you down during operating hours, they’re doing their job poorly (with the notable exception of 24-hour operations).

Marc is, and you, gentle reader, are also welcome to contact me if you have questions, want to know more, or need pen testing or training services.

Test safely.

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Pete Herzog removed my name as contributor from the Hacker Highschool lessons!

Just amazing. Pete Herzong of ISECOM has removed my name from the list on contributors on every lesson of Hacker Highschool – even though I was the Project Manager for 6 years and produced every one of them.

Now that’s the way to treat a contributor to an open-source project! Wipe their name from it!

I am more amazed every day at the childishness of Pete Herzog of ISECOM and Hacker Highschool.