The Industrial Age of Hacking


Timothy Nosco, United States Army; Jared Ziegler, National Security Agency; Zechariah Clark and Davy Marrero, United States Navy; Todd Finkler, United States Air Force; Andrew Barbarello, United States Navy; W. Michael Petullo, United States Army


There is a cognitive bias in the hacker community to select a piece of software and invest significant human resources into finding bugs in that software without any prior indication of success. We label this strategy depth-first search and propose an alternative: breadth-first search. In breadth-first search, humans perform minimal work to enable automated analysis on a range of targets before committing additional time and effort to research any particular one.

We present a repeatable human study that leverages teams of varying skill while using automation to the greatest extent possible. Our goal is a process that is effective at finding bugs; has a clear plan for the growth, coaching,and efficient use of team members; and supports measurable, incremental progress. We derive an assembly-line process that improves on what was once intricate, manual work. Our work provides evidence that the breadth-first approach increases the effectiveness of teams.

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@inproceedings {255246,
author = {Timothy Nosco and Jared Ziegler and Zechariah Clark and Davy Marrero and Todd Finkler and Andrew Barbarello and W. Michael Petullo},
title = {The Industrial Age of Hacking},
booktitle = {29th {USENIX} Security Symposium ({USENIX} Security 20)},
year = {2020},
isbn = {978-1-939133-17-5},
pages = {1129--1146},
url = {},
publisher = {{USENIX} Association},
month = aug,

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