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InSecurity Podcast: Robert Willis on Embracing the Asymmetry of Cybersecurity

Do you know what the worst data breach of all time was?

Think back over the last few years. Do you think it was Sony? JP Morgan Chase? Office of Personnel Management? AdultFriendFinder? And what makes one data breach worse than the next? The type of company? The type of data stolen? The notion of that data being used to threaten the national infrastructure?

It’s tough to know which kind of theft poses a bigger threat to society at large. You may say the OPM breach was huge because it put the IDs of millions of public servants and other regular people up for sale, endangering their privacy and personal safety as well as their digital identities. But what about the case of the corporate officer of an eleven-figure energy company whose data on AdultFriendFinder got accessed in a breach?

Put your tinfoil hat on and follow the ripples out on that one. What could a bad actor do to manipulate — oh I don’t know — purchasing decisions? Or green-lighting potentially controversial energy projects?

What we need are the kind of people who live and think in an asymmetric world in order to deal with the kind of asymmetric attacks we have increasingly seen in the last few years. What if we could get someone on the horn who is as asymmetric as anyone you’ll ever meet? Today might be that day...

On this week’s episode of InSecurity, host Matt Stephenson sits down with Robert Willis to jump all around the world of hacking, red and blue teaming, and the world of cybersecurity writ large. And then, as a special bonus, we dig into the new world Robert is creating, the Paraneon Universe, a cyberpunk comics universe written by hackers for hackers, where the tech is legit. We wouldn’t have had flip phones without Star Trek. Who knows what Robert and Pareneon are going to offer that will change the world?


About Robert Willis

Robert Willis (@rej_ex) runs consulting at 1337 Inc., among other things. He is a red team, blue team, and purple team professional. He isn’t just breaking into things for clients, he’s also building and running security programs.

Robert is featured in the popular Tribe of Hackers series from Wiley, whose new book Tribe of Hackers: Blue Team is out as of September 16th, 2020.

In a previous life, Robert was a Researcher at the breach and attack simulation pioneer ThreatCare. He has worked at places he can’t disclose, but which I have personally verified as legitimate, as crazy as that sounds. Robert’s most mind-numbing accomplishments cannot be talked about publicly, but if you become his friend, he will likely show you some insane stuff – as long as it doesn’t compromise national security…

About 1337 Inc

1337 Inc. was founded after years of building cybersecurity programs and providing services for clients of all sizes. They are trusted security partners for both consulting and deliverables for public, private, and government organizations.

1337 Inc. is Austin-based, but have a presence across Texas to service companies in the Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio areas as well. They have clients across the United States, and also work internationally.

Many of their employees have both civilian and military training credentials, and make it a point to be on top of the latest compliance needs — as well as recently published vulnerabilities.

1337 Inc. offers compliance mapping (ISO27001, SOC2, PCI DSS, GDPR, etc.), security program and policy creation (mapping to the NIST cybersecurity framework), web application assessments, penetration testing, vulnerability assessments, threat modeling, and much, much more.

About Paraneon

Paraneon (@paraneonU) develops and publishes stories from a cyberpunk future. Written for hackers, by hackers.

Below is a short extract to whet your appetite and lead you deeper into the world of Paraeon. If you love all things cyber, you will want to check out the alternative world created in their stories.

The Story So Far

Earth’s landscape is split between highly technocentric cities, dry desert lands that surround them (known as the drylands), and underground worker colonies. The cities are highly futuristic; everyone who is a citizen of a city has a quality of life much higher than the colonies or drylands.

The drylands appear desolate due to dust bowls created from global warming — a problem in earth’s past history. Because of this, all factory operations were moved to Mars to remediate the problems caused by production. Earth is in the healing process from the past damage caused from previous ‘on-earth’ factories. Due to the continued recovery from global warming and chemicals from prior manufacturing, the highest quality resources are reserved for those in the cities.


Every colony specializes in a different trade. Some of the colonies specialize in food production aided by technology, clean air initiatives, general robotics, general information technology, security testing and exploitation.

Colonies were developed as a program to make use of earth’s lower income population — which continues to expand with earth’s limited quality resources. The colonies are small underground cities where families live, train, and work to save enough money for the opportunity to join a city; this is known as being “granted citizenship”.

Although the opportunity to move out of a colony is available for those who can afford it, many residents opt not to leave and instead ‘retire’ into virtual reality. Those who choose to live full-time in virtual reality are put into a network of machinery, known as the Hive. The Hives are massive underground structures, with various locations across earth. The technology within the Hive allows humans to completely abandon the physical world and exist full-time in virtual reality.

The leadership in colonies are known as Mayors. Colonies have their own police force, but city forces hold authority over them.


Groups of people decided to opt-out of the cities and colonies to live in the drylands. These people aren’t just known as ‘non-citizens’ (like colony members), but are also known as ‘drylanders’. They are not integrated with technology like the rest of the population, and consider themselves ‘pure’ humans.

The drylanders are mysterious, and not considered hostile. The cities and colonies don’t worry about drylanders; since resources on earth are limited and the people in the drylands aren’t technological or a threat, they are left alone by police and fend for themselves. Some of the drylanders are known to be able to grow small amounts of food; they then can act as traders and are granted access to the colonies through timed passes to sell goods to members of the colonies — if they can show that they have items that are worthy of being sold.

Differences in Living Conditions

Cities are highly sought after because they offer fresh food, sunlight, and fresh air. Residents are able to access all known information in what’s known as ‘the great library’. Information is considered a privilege reserved for city residents.

In the colonies the food is in canned or powder form, with fresh items only found when brought in by a member of the drylands.

Individuals in the colonies can only study from a shortlist of general studies and what trade their colony specializes in, limiting their knowledge only to what service they provide to society. This was accepted by those in the colonies because society teaches that information as a privilege.

Once a colony member becomes a citizen of a city their access to the ‘great library’ is granted.

The Binding

Humans living in the cities and colonies have tech implanted within them, as part of humanities evolution with technology. These modifications are done once a child has hit a certain age, in a ceremony known as the “binding”.

The binding modifications are required for wireless communication, learning, and access to augmented reality. When walking around in the ‘real world’ you can see people’s avatars due to the augmented reality implants everyone receives after being binded.

You can identify someone as an avatar by a glow around their body, which is required for identification by authorities. Avatars are only able to access areas they are granted permission to. Avatars can exist anywhere in the cities and colonies due to an extensive camera network that give the avatars the ability to not just be seen, but to see their surroundings.


Mars has a single city (referred to as the ‘Neon Aviary’), scattered research outposts and many large factories. The majority of the population on Mars are androids. Humans on Mars exist to complete advanced research, and manage the android workforce to oversee the production of goods developed. Mars is where all androids are created.

Europa (Jupiter’s Moon)

Humans have expanded as far as Europa (a moon of Jupiter) after discovering oceans there. There isn’t a city on Europa, just a network of various research outposts.

Read and learn more about this alternative reality by visiting Pareon’s website at

About Matt Stephenson

Insecurity Podcast host Matt Stephenson (@packmatt73) leads the Broadcast Media team at BlackBerry, which puts him in front of crowds, cameras, and microphones all over the world. He is the regular host of the InSecurity podcast and video series at events around the globe.

Twenty years of work with the world’s largest security, storage, and recovery companies has introduced Stephenson to some of the most fascinating people in the industry. He wants to get those stories told so that others can learn from what has come before.

The InSecurity Podcast

About The InSecurity Podcast

Every week on the InSecurity Podcast, host Matt Stephenson interviews leading authorities in the security industry to gain an expert perspective on topics including risk management, security control friction, compliance issues, and building a culture of security. Each episode provides relevant insights for security practitioners and business leaders working to improve their organization’s security posture and bottom line.

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