Becoming an All-Around Defender: Building an Enterprise-Grade Home Lab

To be a successful all-around defender, or cybersecurity generalist, you need to understand the fundamentals and be able to apply them in an orderly way. That means you have to understand the underlying technologies (not the products) and be able to use them to build something yourself, say SANS Certified Instructors Justin Henderson and Ismael Valenzuela.

As I shared in my last blog, Justin and Ismael are on a mission to define what it means to be an all-around defender and help blue teamers arm themselves with the tools and experience they need to be successful. According to them, there’s no better way to gain the experience you need than by building your own enterprise-grade home lab to use for practice and troubleshooting.

“Working on things in a home lab lets me replicate how enterprise environments function, but at home, without the cost or risk to the business,” Justin says. “It’s ultimately what helped me land multiple jobs, even though my experience wasn’t product based.”

“When you’re in an enterprise environment, something could break,” Ismael explains. “But in a home lab, it’s much more controlled, and you have an opportunity to learn how to troubleshoot, which is such an important skill.”

Building, Not Deploying

So much of the value comes from the process of building. As Justin cautions, if you just learn how to deploy a program that does everything for you, “you didn’t learn a thing.”

“I want an employee who has built it from the ground up, through all the frustrations,” Justin says. “No one looks for an employee who knows how to click a ‘deploy’ button.”

Ismael suggests one exercise could even be to install Linux from scratch and try to reduce the number of kernel modules. How many can you live without? As you play around in your home lab, you’ll break things, but you’ll learn dependencies and how the various pieces fit together.

“Start with the minimal install and then try to see what you need to run with it,” Ismael says. “That’s how you learn which modules control the networking, for example.”

How to Level Up Your Home Lab

Building a home lab is one of the quickest and most effective ways to level up as an all-around defender. Get expert guidance from Ismael and Justin in this webcast on May 13 at 1:00pm EDT. In this second webcast in the four-part series, learn how to build a home lab on a shoestring budget that may even exceed most organization’s defense capabilities.

That’s right, an enterprise-grade home lab doesn’t have to cost a fortune. “There’s always hardware being decommissioned… There’s your lab right there!” Justin says. 

View the archived recording of the webcast below, and find a great list of resources here
to explore for building a home lab, many of which Ismael and Justin discuss in the webcast.

Part three of this webcast series is scheduled for June 24 at 1:00pm EDT; in it, Ismael and Justin will discuss how to extend your home lab to include the cloud. Register here

Ismael and Justin are also the co-authors of SEC530: Defensible Security Architecture and Engineering, currently available for registration in our Live Online and OnDemand formats. Demo the course for free here.

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