Cyber Consistory Wants to Help Bring Ethical Hacking Out of The Shadows

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Monica Michael (left) and Ival Martin (right) Looking at one of the computers at Cyber Consistory. Photo by Ty Polk.

About six years ago, Ival Martin, the President of Aerial Energy Resources, knew he was getting hacked, but there was nothing he could do about it. The hacker beat the anti-virus software he set up.

“The screen would flash and [blackout],” said Martin. “I reinstalled the operating system, and a different antivirus software detected a Trojan horse and then said everything’s fine.”

He learned how to fight back by learning from a group about ethical hacking. Now he helps other people learn ethical hacking with his new venture, Cyber Consistory, located in the Strip District.

“I’ve been training ever since it’s a continuous process,” said Martin. “Since then, my company has not been hacked.”

Ival Martin looking at the computer screen displaying information.

Cyber Consistory wants to be a place for meeting, training, and educating ethical hackers. The name consistory comes from the term for a training school for knights in medieval times.

People can learn the basic and advanced tools of hacking and use it to work with other ethical hackers or freelance.

It is open to the public but does have memberships for some of their projects, and you don’t have to be a computer person to help.

Ethical hacking does require some people to be good at math or coding; people like journalists who can record and communicate information to the companies who request their help.

“You don’t have to know anything about software,” said Martin. “Knowing how to deal with people and writing reports is a skill, they would fit into the team.”

Monica Michael looking at old data from the systems. Photo by Tyler Polk.

If someone wanted to come into Cyber Consistory to hang out and use the computer on non-open house days, it’s $15. For fellow ethical hackers looking into joining, a monthly pass is $100. With the opportunities it provides, it almost pays itself.

“If you’re active in the group, active in the membership, then you know,” said Martin. “You give a class to the public like 40 minutes or 30 minutes or something like that on Python, for example, it’s a scripting language, or Wi-Fi security, anything, it could be really basic.”

The consistory was formerly Home Hydroponics of Pittsburgh, a greenhouse before becoming the Consistory. Monica Michael, the owner of the venture, was convinced to revamp the space for cybersecurity purposes in August 2018. She calls him “the face of this business.”

“I’ve known him personally and professionally for four years,” said Martin. “He’s put blood, sweat, and tears into this. I know he’ll draw in some fascinating people who can do exciting things.”

Cyber Consistory is not your typical hackers’ domain. When you walk in, you are greeted in an open area designed for meetings for other businesses. The venture’s calling card is upstairs, a workspace with numerous computers displaying information and a library on hacking techniques and protocol.

Ival Martin holding a small operating system. All it needs is an Ethernet cord to access the internet. Photo by Tyler Polk.

Martin and people who are members even created operating systems that are smaller than external hard drives but are so powerful that they can operate like a new Mac or PC with only a USB wire and an Ethernet port.

“This server I’m holding can take an hour if you have an advanced skill level,” said Martin. “Which means it takes me a few days. I don’t claim to have massive skill; we have access to unique tools.”

Another exciting activity at Cyber Consistory is War Games, a hacking tournament that can be played solo or have 15 players playing. If enough equipment is stacked onto the system, 150 players could play this hacking tournament.

The game can be watched live like an eSport. You could see the attacks come across, the traffic coming across, and things like this in a graphical way.

“You don’t need anybody defending or attacking. So just one person could log in and run the attacks against the machines”, said Martin. “Eventually, we want to post some of those on YouTube and get more of a social media involved with that.”

Ival and Monica’s long term goal with Cyber Consistory is to get people to understand the demand for protecting your information and how hacking could affect you.

“People always think that hacking doesn’t affect them,” said Michael. “People make a livelihood off of hacking things like Instagram accounts, and they get hacked constantly.”