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The Hacker Next Door: Confessions of a Black Hat (w/ Alex Berta)

  • VACO 5410 Maryland Way Brentwood, TN, 37027 United States (map)

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This talk will give security professionals an in-depth look at how the black hat community operates. From goals to methodologies, Alex will pull back the curtains on some of the world’s most dangerous cyber-attacks and attackers so you can better understand the threats you face.

Topics to be covered include:

  • The four universal steps of a cyber-attack
  • What happens from the attacker's point of view
  • What happens after an attack

Don’t miss this unique insight into how black hat hackers operate, and how you can protect your network.


As a teenager, Alex Berta spent several years as a high-value member of select hacking collectives around the world, which gave him rare insight into the methods and goals of the criminal black hat hackers. Today, Alex uses everything he’s learned to educate and protect users and networks across the country.

In addition to the technical brilliance he puts to work for NSG clients every day, Alex is an acclaimed advocate, educator and speaker for groups ranging from the Nashville Technology Council to the US Government. His ability to clarify the murky world of online hackers is forcing policy makers and business owners to rethink their approach to information security for the benefit of their clients, employees and overall business strategy.

TechnologyAdvice Podcast:

Clark Buckner with TechnologyAdvice spoke to Alex about his intriguing, underground backstory, transitioning from the West Side to the corporate side of hacking, and what he thinks the future holds for hackers and their criminal activities.

Berta clarified three different hacker categories, all of which he belonged to at one point or another:  

  • Black hat hackers, or cowboys, engage in criminal activities. They do not abide by any rules or laws, so they act on free will, doing whatever they wish in order to get the job done.
  • Gray hat hackers, or rogues, can act as liaisons between cowboys and corporate white hats.
  • White hat hackers, or corporate hackers, hack systems in order to discover security holes and to understand how particular bugs and malware work so as to prevent similar hacking events from occurring.  

Berta began his “career” at fifteen, working with several large, high-level black hat hacking groups across the world. Like most teenage hackers, he got into hacking for the thrill and challenge of it. As a black hat hacker, Berta developed malicious software, and formed friendships with fellow hackers.

He eventually realized he couldn’t stay a cowboy forever, so he found work with a defense company, a place where he was trained to become more proficient and that also provided guidance in honing his skillset.  

As time passed, Berta’s hat underwent a bleaching, turning from black to gray and finally to white. Today, Alex provides training to companies and organizations that need his security expertise. Still, for the purposes of education, he may be found wearing a hat of a former color from time to time.

He identified two particular challenges in the corporate security space:

  • Understanding the real threat: Security departments in many companies do not necessarily understand the mindset and methods of black hat hackers. Such ignorance or naivete could result in a serious security breach, especially for small to medium-sized companies.
  • Government restrictions and guidelines: The government may want to hire a hacker, but they will want to change everything about that hacker. This is very different from the black hat hacking community, where anyone can join without restrictions or requirements.

Berta strives to expose black hat methodology. He ensures that when he trains a security team, they realize that persistent threats are involved. He wants them to look at hacking not only from a defensive perspective, but also from the attacker’s side.  

As an illustration of the need for his particular talents, Berta reported that about 30,000 new threats came in per day back when he was a black hat hacker. Today, that number is reported to be approximately doubled new and undocumented threats every day. Such a daunting number could take months, if not years, for qualified IT security professionals to catch.

Berta knows that security threats in our globally connected world are only likely to get worse, but he remains excited about working and teaching in the security field. His many years of hacking experience on the other side of the fence, so to speak, have given him confidence to stay one step ahead of the black hat community.

Likewise, Berta wants companies to educate their IT security personnel so that they too can stay one step ahead of advanced, persistent, ever-changing threats stemming from black hat hackers.

Read more about this interview on NSG's blog post recap.

Earlier Event: September 25
InfoSec 2014