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Robert Neel, founder and CEO of PEN Consultants, shares his background working on SBIRS (now part of Space Force), Red Team lead at USAA, a Nation-State Hacker with NSA, and more.



Robert, tell me a little bit about your personal background

Like a lot of us in this field,
I started at maybe 6 years old
working on computers and programming them
but starting career wise
I was a system and network administrator for a church while in college
and then I did the same for a school district in the DFW area
From there, I worked at Lockheed Martin on a SBIRS satellite string
after that, the core of my career was at NSA as a nation-state hacker
then I went to USAA and created and led their red team
With a lot of this
it was very similar work to what we do here at PEN Consultants

Tell me more about your time with DoD and USAA

After my masters degree in computer science/engineering,
I transitioned into DoD
through the defense contractor Lockheed Martin
working on the SBRIS program
as a computer hardware engineer
on one of the satellite strings
SBIRS has its roots back in President Reagan’s day
with “Star Wars”
and the “Space Surveillance and Tracking System”.
If you don’t know,
SBIRS tracks heat signature,
such as rockets and missiles,
to give early warning of an attack,
as well as global surveillance for what is now part of Space Force.

Let's talk about the core of your career at NSA as a nation-state hacker

From there, I went to NSA for the core of my career
I was a GNEVA
or Global Network Exploitation Vulnerability Analyst
In other words, I was an actual nation-state hacker
I looked for vulnerabilities in
devices and software
nation-state adversaries were using
computer systems, software, phones, network gear, etc.
which were often COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) devices/software
I would then write proof-of-concept exploits
that eventually military operators used to gain access
for surveillance and intelligence gathering purpose
which supports the war fighter

Tell me more about your work at USAA on the red team

After NSA, I transitioned to USAA
a bank for members of the military and their families
I started and led their red team for 5 years
Which means, I played the role of an adversary for 5 years
constantly hacking into the bank
and then telling them how to mitigate it
This is very similar to what we do here at PEN Consultants

Tell me about what you've been doing since your work at USAA

since early 2019
It’s been PEN Consultants exclusively for me

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