Updated: Sep 11, 2020
It was back in 2006 when I would make the decision that forever came to change my life. I had decided to join the army. I signed up during the height of the War in Afghanistan, and enrolled in the Canadian Armed Forces as a Combat Engineer. Doing this guaranteed my deployment into Afghanistan and ensured I would get to see combat. Fast forward now two years of basic training including the build-up for Afghanistan and pre-deployment training to an overseas flight to Dubai. Now at that point, Canada had a “super-secret base” called Camp Mirage. This would eventually be shut down but, for a Middle East camp, it was really nice. When we finally got our boots on the ground in Afghanistan, we find out that my team was going to be assigned to the Quick Reaction Force (“QRF”). That job was a constant go, go, go! There was no stopping at all there and there was no such thing as a break. The job of QRF was to deal with anything that was bad and should needed solving immediately, with force if need be. After NINE LONG MONTHS(!) of this we finally got sent back home, and attempted to get back to a sense of normalcy. What people forget to tell you though is no matter how terrible it was; you miss it. You miss the rush; you miss the thrill, and you miss it all.
After the Afghan era ended, that itch could never be completely scratched. My friends and I longed for something that we would never get back. Something that we could never find. So when the chance to get back to it arose again in the opportunity of becoming a Private Military Contractor (PMC) I jumped all over it. I left the military immediately and deployed to Africa to work on Counter Insurgency operations with the United Nations as a high-risk mentor. I finally had the chance to chase the thrill of combat again. However, everything has its cost and after spending nearly three years living and working in Africa my days were done and it was time to come home.
At this time, my wife and I had decided to sell everything and move down to Costa Rica, because why not?! My family and I needed to reconnect and what better place to do it than paradise? While there I got a phone call that would set me off on this path that I am very thankful for. A lady named Katherine Thompson had contacted me through a weird back-door conversation that I still don’t completely understand and informed me that I had the perfect, and in demand, mindset to be working in info-sec. I laughed ... for a really long time. Here I am, Greg Hanniman - a bullet sponge! What can I bring to info-sec? I can barely type, and I roll my face across the keyboard to solve my computer issues! After a very long conversation, we said our good byes and I went on living in paradise. And then in a weird coincidence a few hours after that, veteran affairs approved me for the rehabilitation program and told me that they would cover me to go to post-secondary education and help me get back to a normal civilian life. Then I had a decision to make; do we move back to cold Canada and see if this info-sec life is for me and if I can do it, or do I climb the nearest tree across the street and get a pineapple? The fact that I am writing this should answer that question.
I got home and started researching schools and my options and then was contacted out of the blue by a Tom Moore from WithYouWithMe (“WYWM”) and Katherine Thompson, who had pulled me into a video conference that once again baffled me as I didn’t belong there either. Tom runs a program for veterans that help them get their feet wet in cyber security and I DOVE right in! It was the start of my journey. WYWM was a good start and the people there were so instrumental in getting me back on track. They helped pull me out of a really dark place. Then, in yet another weird happenstance, I get introduced to Rima Aristocrat from Willis College. Rima then convinced me that her college would be a good fit and very veteran friendly, so I decided to enroll!
Now let me get to the juicy part! I was hanging on LinkedIn a few weeks back and I see this group of guys with a goal and a dream. They understand that cyber security is in demand and is not cheap. With a wealth of experience and a knowledge base that would put most 90’s hacker movies to shame, I was introduced to Manny from Hackers for Change (HFC) who made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. Not in money though, because there was none. And not in a full-time job, because that’s not what they offered either. They offered me the ability to contribute, and join a community of helpful, ethical hackers, all because they just want to do the right thing. These guys do volunteer work for small not-for-profit, and charity organizations alike. And what they are doing IS hacking. They hack small businesses and instead of using it for malicious intents, they help. They find the vulnerabilities in their websites (which are now during COVID times, storefronts) and see how far they can get down those rabbit hole, and then they tell the company how to fix the issues!
Now Manny and his community of not-so-evil geniuses put me on a team and gave me a target. They told me to just mess around and then later that night one of their Senior Consultants will run me through common attacks and show us how to hack! So I loaded up the ol’ hacking machine and got to work. Within the first hour I found my first group of vulnerabilities and I got so excited that I ran around the house all giddy like it was my Christmas morning and Santa brought me a new Lego set. To give you guys context, I am 6’3, almost 300lbs, big beard and covered in tattoos - it must have looked amusing to say the least! I don’t want to say that finding vulnerabilities and breaking into a live site will give you the same adrenaline rush as combat, but it comes pretty close.
So this is just an introduction to my mystical journey into cyber security and info-sec, and how a bullet sponge like myself has learned to become an ethical hacker and fight for the good guys in the new warzone.