John Strand breaks into things for a living. As a penetration tester, he gets hired by organizations to attack their defenses, helping reveal weaknesses before actual bad guys find them. Normally, Strand embarks on these missions himself, or deploys one of his experienced colleagues at Black Hills Information Security. But in July 2014, prepping for a pen test of a South Dakota correctional facility, he took a decidedly different tack. He sent his mom.
In fairness, it was Rita Strand’s idea. Then 58, she had signed on as chief financial officer of Black Hills the previous year after three decades in the food service industry. She was confident, given that professional experience, that she could pose as a state health inspector to gain access to the prison. All it would take was a fake badge and the right patter.
“She approached me one day, and said ‘You know, I want to break in somewhere,” says Strand, who is sharing the experience this week at the RSA cybersecurity conference in San Francisco. “And it’s my mom, so what am I supposed to say?”