Discussing Cybersecurity and White-Hat Hackers
From having no access to technology to running some of the most advanced tech in the world, Marcus Carey’s path in the IT field has been one filled with white-hat hackers, cybersecurity, and more.
Marcus Carey (Twitter, LinkedIn), the founder and CEO of Threatcare, actually grew up in Texas with very little access to technology. But that changed when he joined the Navy and went into cryptology. While serving the country, Marcus worked with the most advanced tech in the world. And when his service time was finished, he stayed in the field, working in various government agencies for a number of years.
At Threatcare, Marcus applies the lessons he’s learned along the way to help his customers secure their data and test their cybersecurity. In this interview, he and Ian talk about what it means to be a white-hat hacker versus a black-hat hacker, creating automated technology, and finding your superpower.
Topics Discussed: Technology, cryptography, white-hat hacking, black-hat hacking, cybersecurity, entrepreneurship, leadership.
Marcus’ origin story — (2:00)
- Grew up in a small town called Marlon, TX. Born in his grandmother’s house.
- Went to Waco High.
- “I’m a country boy. I really appreciate coming from a small town. I love working with my hands and I was always building stuff.”
Early access to technology — (3:50)
- “I grew up the poorest person I knew.”
- There was not a lot of technology available, but Marcus was fortunate enough to test into the “gifted and talented classes,” which is how he first gained access to a computer.
- “I was always attracted to technology, I just didn’t have the access. And if I had any technology, that technology was super old.”
- Joined the Navy at 18. When he enlisted, he joined the cryptology division and was given access and clearance to some of the most advanced technology in the world.
Marcus’ time in the Navy and adapting to the access he was given— (5:30)
- Entered the military in 1993 and even then, they had technology similar to what Twitter is today.
- “We had some of the first routers, firewalls, and some of the technology that some organizations still don’t have, I had access to in 1993.”
- Did the military entrance exam and his recruiter was surprised he scored so high. He had two options, cryptology or working on nuclear power plant technology. He really wanted to work with computers. The recruiter said, “well we think this job involves computers but we’re not sure because the information is classified.”
- Went from having no access to tech to having the highest clearance in the land was a learning curve.
- “One moment I’m in the hood with my friends and five months later I had the highest clearance in the land…. I felt like I was living in the future.”
What is the difference between black-hat hackers and white-hat hackers? — (11:35)
- The white-hat hackers are built from a curiosity that brews from a young age. The white-hat mentality is just that curiosity and wanting to know why everything works.
- Leonardo Da Vinci was a white-hat hacker. You don’t have to necessarily be a white-hat computer hacker, you can have that curiosity in other ways.
- When you apply the white-hat hacker mentality to life or computers, you’re ultimately helping to fix things.
- A white-hat will want to fix a problem, a black-hat will try to scheme the problem and use vulnerabilities against others.
- White-hats find a weakness in the process, people and technology, and then try to improve all those things. Black-hats try to exploit those same things.
- It’s the same skillset but used in a different way.
What was the impetus to start a company? — (14:40)
- A lot of creative people want to do it their own way because they see there is a different way to do something — they want to have a pure expression of what they believe.
- Marcus always liked to build and invent things. He was a fan of MacGyver and The A-Team.
- “I want to be creative and find a better way to solve a problem that exists in the world.”
- Ultimately the white-hat hacker mentality was what led him to want to do his own thing.
- Sometimes he wonders what his life would be like if he was still at the agency, but his friends who are there say he’s still making a difference by mentoring and offering security solutions through his company.
- “Whoever you are or wherever you are, you can find a way to serve. Find what you’re passionate about and build something.”
The setbacks of the early company — (18:45)
- Marcus was a solo founder who got funding, but was subsequently told he needed to hire a team and a CEO.
- “I didn’t think I was a CEO. I thought I was just the tech person who needed a CEO.”
- Went through the TechStars program and learned he was actually a CEO.
- “It was some kind of mental block where I think, I’m a CTO, I build technology. But now I know I’m a leader.”
- Learning that confidence was the biggest challenge. The imposter syndrome is real and normal, but you’re probably way more awesome than you think you are.
CEOs and founders have to be relentless in what they believe. What is the dent Marcus wants to make? — (21:05)
- “The dent in the universe I want to make at the end of the day is that I want to help as many people as I can use their superpowers for good. I want to be Professor X. I want to help a lot of people realize they have superpowers and then unleash them. Everybody is blessed with some kind of superpower.”
- He thinks long term. Some of the people he mentors will build awesome companies, and he might build or invest in companies with people he’s currently working with. This has the opportunity to be a big snowball.
- He’s trying to show people they don’t have to be jerks to win in the universe.
How do you help people do their best work and how does Threatcare keep people safe? — (24:10)
- Threatcare automates processes to check your network and make sure it’s safe from hacking.
- 20 years ago you were considered a magician if you could hack. That is no longer the case.
- Marcus makes it simple by automating hacking and security to protect you from it.
- When he was at the NSA, Marcus would write code to make his manual tasks easier. By automating tasks, you can focus more on the important things. That includes testing.
- Automated testing allows you to find holes faster which allows you to patch them and protect yourself from the big bad wolves who are coming for you or your data.
What is at stake in the black-hat hacker environment? — (26:15)
- Hackers are often hackers because it’s their best or only opportunity. Many hackers in China, for example, do not have access to jobs or opportunities that would pay them well enough to survive. So they take the option of hacking, which allows them to put food on their table.
- You can hack into a company’s CRM to see who they’re selling, and there are layers to why security matters.
Tribe of Hackers and the process of writing the book — (34:35)
- Inspired by Tim Ferris’s book, Tribe of Mentors.
- Wrote a book proposal and questions, pitched to some publishers who were not interested, so he decided to self-publish. Released in January and it has been ranked in the Top 10 of most technical categories.
- The book tells people how to get into cybersecurity and make a career out of it.
- There are five more books planned in the series.
Having an impact — (36:50)
- It’s about wanting to leave a legacy, and his book and Twitter account will be the way Marcus’ feelings, achievements and impacts are archived.
- “How do I want people to remember me? What’s going to be my legacy? How can I leave an impact on my world, my kids, everything?”
- The book is making a dual impact: around the world, it’s providing knowledge, and the proceeds from the book are going to charity.
Lightning Round — (44:40)
- Marcus uses chatbots for customer support on the website
- Loves basketball.
- If you’re in Austin and could only do one thing, you have to see Sixth Street.