Digerati50: ‘Bad boy’ does good

Digital News Asia (DNA) continues a weekly series that profiles the top 50 influencers, movers and shakers who are helping shape Malaysia’s Digital Economy. These articles are from Digerati50, a special print publication released in January 2014. For information on customised reprints of Digerati50, email [email protected].

  • Homegrown cyber-security conference overcomes challenges to make its mark 
  • For founder, it's not work when 'you love what you do' with no plans to retire

Digerati50: ‘Bad boy’ does goodONE of Malaysia’s most successful tech-related exports has made its mark on the global stage and has an annual event that is on the calendar of some of the world’s leading researchers and experts in the subject.

Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of it, though. After all, we’re talking about a hacker movement and its annual cyber-security conference.

Hack In The Box (HITB) began in the 1990s as a website and community of hackers, developers and all-round techies, and not long after organised its first HITB Security Conference (HITBSecConf) in Kuala Lumpur, which in 2012 celebrated its 10th anniversary. It has also successfully expanded to Europe via an annual sister-conference in Amsterdam.

Its founder and chief executive officer Dhillon Andrew Kannabhiran (pic) nonetheless also always credits his team of volunteers – what he dubs the ‘HITB Core Crew’ – for pushing the envelope. “HITB’s driven by our volunteers, and each of them brought something special to the table,” he says.

It all started because the former technology journalist wanted to go to the US-based Defcon and Black Hat, two premiere international hacker and info- security events, but could not afford it.

“So all this stems from the point when I thought, well, if I can’t afford to go to Black Hat, why don’t I bring Black Hat to me?” laughs Dhillon.

But there is also an altruistic streak: HITBSecConf always keeps it costs low so that more people get the chance to hear some of the greatest speakers in the field, while all profits from one event are pumped back into the next event.

HITBSecConf has also made its mark because it keeps the quality of the content high via a vigorous peer-review process; and also because it is where ‘black hats’ can meet and engage with ‘white hats’ in a ‘safe environment.’

“You can only get this kind of environment at HITBSecConf,” says Dhillon, which is also why it finds support from some of the biggest names in technology: Facebook, Google and Microsoft.

It hasn’t been easy-going all the way, with a foray into the Middle-East a few years ago not working out well. “Learning to let go and accepting that the best-laid plans do not always turn out the way you want them to,” Dhillon says of his biggest challenges.

“Also being flexible and willing to adapt to changing environments – there’s nothing wrong with failing, but not trying is inexcusable,” says the 35-year-old.

HITBSecConf also never sits on its laurels. For instance, the 2014 Amsterdam conference celebrates its fifth year, and to mark this, will feature an all-female line- up of keynote speakers.

“Amsterdam will also include the ‘HITB Haxpo’ – a technology exhibition or haxposition (yes, we coined a new term) that aims to bring together four main groups: Hackers, makers, breakers and builders,” says Dhillon.

When asked what he believes his biggest impact has been, he says, “To have created an entity that has grown to become a respected platform for security discussion and debate not just in Asia, but internationally.”

But in a nod to the HITB Core Crew,
he adds that what he is most proud of is the fact “that a bunch of Malaysians were crazy enough to create something unique that they can now stand proudly behind.”

What about riding off into the sunset? “Retire? From what? I love what I do and I count my blessings each and every day that I get to do something I truly enjoy,” says Dhillon.

“I don’t think you can think of it as ‘work’ when you love what you do – when you wake up with excitement at the possibilities that lie ahead, and not with the dread of the obstacles that may come.

“Retire? Why would I want to do a thing like that?” he chuckles.

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