Article

Hack The Box: The Greek Startup that Trains Hackers

By Endeavor Greece Apr 12, 2021

Does the word hacker bring to mind a “dark” guy who is sitting in front of a computer trying to do damage to third parties? Forget it. “A hacker is merely someone who exploits a system and transforms it so that it performs something it is not designed to,” Mr. Haris Pylarinos explains, the founder of Hack the Box, a Greek venture that evolved into the largest hacker community worldwide with half a million users.

All those who are involved in hacking with a view to make profit or to cause damage are simply criminals. All the others are potential cyber-security executives, extremely valuable in our age, as the digital and the material world are inextricably interconnected, and the one can influence the other, says Mr. Pylarinos to Outliers, Endeavor Greece’s podcast series, whose media partner is MoneyReview.

A cyber-attack could damage an electrical grid, a water supply system, our car or any electrical appliance in our house. Nowadays, our data contain a great deal of information about our lives. The more important the data are, the more important their security is.

How did Mr. Pylarinos enter the hacking world? He was mostly driven by his curiosity about how things functioned. “I used to dismantle my toys in order to figure out how they work, and later I used to do the same with my computers. In this way, I realized I could ‘tamper’ with them,” he points out.

He was lucky enough to engage in the computer science from a very young age. At the 5th grade of the elementary school, he attended an experimental programming class. When he was at Junior High School, he acquired his first computer, which he could not stop tampering with.

At that time, “the software you possessed had some value. We kept the hacking, the tools we used. We exchanged them, and surely there was no deceit,” he recollects.

Mr. Pylarinos worked for more than 10 years for a shipping company, at the IT department, where he learnt a lot. When the new GDPR regulation about the personal data was issued, he was given the chance to be involved again into cyber-security issues and delve into what he loved most; hacking.

When he first created his own community, he could not even imagine the impact he would have. How did he come across with the idea? “Hacking does not simply involve studying a textbook. You have to be open to trials, to exchange your knowledge and views, to constantly develop your abilities. I soon realized that there was a gap, a certain need, and that is exactly what I tried to fulfill by creating Hack the Box.”

At the beginning, the community was in Greek, and its name was in Greek too.

“It was not my intention to build a company. I simply wanted to launch a platform, a community for hackers, and I added a social aspect, a chatroom, which proved to be a success,” he says.

Along the way, it evolved into a two-language venture, it welcomed interested parties from abroad and it grew rapidly.

“Competition is an important issue, because it urges you to get better. Apart from the social aspect, to talk and to exchange views, there followed essential contribution and development.”

Only for a few months did Hack the Box work as a community. Mr. Pylarinos soon realized that it was imperative to transform it into a company. “It ‘chewed up’ money, so it was essential that it made profit. Then he met James Hooker, who was already part of the community, and became a co-founder of the company. He turned his house into the headquarters of the company in Britain. Soon after that, Aris Zikopoulos joined the venture.

It was not long afterwards that Hack the Box received several acquisition offers. However, he received a very interesting proposal from Marathon, which he decided to accept. Marathon would invest in the company as long as they left their morning jobs and dedicated themselves to the startup.

From the beginning, the people working in Hack the Box were members of the community. “That was a great advantage. You have half a million people, who you know how good they are, and you try to hire the very best of them,” Mr. Pylarinos mentioned.

The company currently serves very important clients, including individuals, companies, governments, police forces, and it cooperates with a number of universities. It has also founded its own Academy, which attempts to incorporate some parts of the traditional training.

As it combined “luck with a very good product,” he had no difficulty in raising capital. At the moment, the company closes a new major funding round. The last investment was made by an American fund, that focuses on cyber-security, namely Paladin. Bright Eye and even OUP, another American Fund, also participated in the funding round.

What is the goal of a company that was founded in 2017 and in just four years became so big? “To become such a recognizable brand in the business world, so that a young person can present a Hack the Box certificate to a job interview.”

Find the episode on Outliers.gr

The article was originally published at moneyreview.gr

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