AntiguaRecon is an educational organization jointly launched by Adam Dennis, a technology professional living in Antigua, and Island Academy International, an international school also located in Antigua.
The initiative was created as an opportunity to give young Antiguans and recent secondary school graduates the chance to build cybersecurity skills they could use to get jobs at companies around the world.
The long-term goal?
To create the Caribbean’s very own Silicon Valley.
The program began in January 2022 and now includes 15 students who meet twice a week to work through Hack The Box modules together. In addition, the students meet on Saturdays to complete labs and other work.
In the beginning, the students in the program didn’t have technical backgrounds and had a minimal understanding of cybersecurity outside of what they’ve seen in pop culture.
Since using Hack The Box (HTB) training, however, they have quickly evolved into a budding group of young, competent hackers.
In fact, they were able to quickly put their skills to use by diagnosing the methods a hacker used to compromise the website of a local business.
Most young people in Antigua have limited options for employment after secondary school if they don’t have the means to attend school overseas.
As a result, Adam wanted to come up with a way to leverage his experience with cybersecurity professionals and the knowledge he gained from training his staff on secure coding practices to develop a program built around cybersecurity education.
When he began to investigate training solutions, he reached out to a friend working in the cybersecurity field who recommended that Adam use Hack The Box. After signing on to the platform and becoming familiar with the variety of training solutions available, AntiguaRecon was born.
The purpose of AntiguaRecon is to create career opportunities for future cybersecurity professionals in Antigua. In doing so, Adam hopes to create a brain trust, located in Antigua and overseas, to help foster and support AntiguaRecon through training and job placement.
The founders, Adam Dennis and Bernadette Sherman of Island Academy International, believe the local school can serve as a hub for nurturing a technology culture in Antigua which can then serve customers in the U.S., Canada, and elsewhere.
When asked what inspired her to take on this challenge, Bernadette said, “I want Island Academy not to just train our youth, but help them learn how to sell their skills overseas. Adam and I have already lined up other initiatives that will operate out of our school, and we plan to follow up with a software development program as well. We’re excited to have our partnership with Hack The Box help meet these training goals!”
In addition, she said, “Our mission is to offer a world-class education that will enable our diverse community of students to successfully function in the global community. AntiguaRecon is an excellent expression of our mission taking our educational program in a new direction seeking not just skills development, but job opportunities as well.”
AntiguaRecon currently has 15 students enrolled in the program pursuing the Hack The Box Academy curriculum as well as the Dedicated Labs. They have been operating for just over six months and have completed around 20 modules and a range of labs.
The initial deployment of Hack The Box to the students was positively received, and the class strategy continues to evolve along with their needs.
The group recently started informal Saturday morning sessions outside class via Discord and increased the number of labs to 3-4 per month.
In the short time AntiguaRecon has been running, they have:
Completed approximately 250 sections and 8 labs, including one customized lab developed by the lead mentor and another developed by a student.
Helped more than half of the students completely master each module.
Recruited 19 mentors via Hack The Box’s Career Board, six of whom are very active and one who now plays a core role in guiding the students.
Been commissioned to conduct web attacks for two separate companies. One company has a SaaS-based website and the other has an online ordering site. In both cases, the students worked with their mentors to interview the customers, conduct the attacks, write the audit, and then present the results to the customers.
Recently launched a podcast to communicate their journey and interview people in cybersecurity to discuss how they see the threat landscape and what suggestions they might have for people breaking into the field.
Since its inception, the program has transformed a group of students who had little to no cybersecurity knowledge into a group who now has a foundational understanding of enumeration, brute forcing logins, basic Linux commands, and basic information security skills to use when they join the cybersecurity workforce in the near future.
“Before I started this program, I was interested in IT, but never saw it as an achievable career path due to the expense of the programs, or because I didn't have a strong programming background. Hack The Box, AntiguaRecon, and Island Academy have changed my opinion. They have made learning cybersecurity very accessible and easy to understand. I really appreciate them for that.”
- Sheniqua Greaves, a 20-year-old student in the program
Adam has already developed a series of steps needed to demonstrate the group’s success for future students interested in using their services.
As part of that effort, he says the next lab will be another active server sandboxed by a company that wants students to break their box, if possible. According to Adam, this will be their own version of a private bug bounty, and an opportunity for the students to learn what they do and don’t know while also understanding the value of clear and understandable documentation as they write their third audit.
(The audit template being used was provided by employees of a cybersecurity company in Canada that supports its mission and goals.)
Although audits haven’t been made part of the curriculum just yet, Adam mentioned that members of the team have already done one forensic audit of a local business website that was hacked.
“The website was a mess,” Adam said. “We had to piece together the hacker’s footprints from a limited number of files and logs that had not yet been deleted by the administrator. Suffice it to say, it was a WordPress site that the evidence suggested had an exploit that the hackers put to work for them.”
The next steps for AntiguaRecon will be to incorporate more real-world experiences into the training, such as the examples mentioned above. In doing so, the team’s goal is to line up more hacking opportunities which will allow them to actively learn how to write comprehensive audits for customers.
"We have also started reaching out to cybersecurity firms to see who might be interested in hiring our students. The best scenario for us would be to find a company or two that want our services and can define their needs so that we can bias our training accordingly. This will ensure that the companies will get what they need, which is something we value highly.”
- Adam Dennis, Founder of AntiguaRecon
There is a lot of work still left to do, but Adam and his team are having a great time learning, building relationships, and hacking boxes.
Please feel free to visit the team on Linkedin, their website, or send an email to [email protected] (especially if you want to discuss hacking opportunities for the team!).
Big things are happening in Antigua. Let’s watch them grow!
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