Interview with Alex Cabello Leiva, engineer specialized in projects and innovation, NFT artist and hacker
Translation that I have done to an article that Tiago Loya Carranza has published: https://medium.com/@tiagoloyacarranza/entrevista-a-alex-cabello-leiva-ingeniero-especializado-en-proyectos-e-innovaci%C3%B3n-artista-nft-y-26b456c588be
Alex Jesús Cabello Leiva, better known as AlexCocoPro, is a Venezuelan dreamer and passionate, whom I have invited to a remote interview from Spain to make known about his work, which has been characterized by mixing elements of engineering, such as development of software and cryptography, with areas of knowledge that are very different, such as digital art.
The interview with Alex was conducted through a telephone call which was recorded and transcribed for this publication.
Tiago: Who is Alex Cabello Leiva?
Alex: Well, I am a dreamer, dyslexic, adventurous person, technology optimist, project consultant, lover of agile methodologies.
T: Why don't you define yourself as an engineer or a hacker?
A: I first graduated as a senior technician in communications and electronics, graduated from the Military University Institute of communications and electronics, then I graduated as an engineer, although I try not to use my degrees or certifications, but rather my creativity and ingenuity, which I applied in areas that I work despite not having studied them formally, such as photography, audiovisual production, digital copyright, software development projects and creative projects.
T: And hacker?
A: I know about information security, I'm an encryption geek, but I don't define myself as a hacker because hackers are usually given a negative connotation, the term hacker is usually associated with cybercrime and, despite that I know how to do things, my intention is not to cause harm. I'm like an electronics jumper, a bypass on the circuit board to skip a component and make a circuit designed for something specific to have additional functionality.
A: Many call me a hacker with this negative connotation and others because they see that I have certain technical skills. I do not have a formal certification that says I am an information security specialist. I'm just really good at accomplishing things and getting information.
T: It's kind of hard to understand. How can you be dyslexic and a programmer? How do you get along with that?
A: I know how to program and I know a lot about digital logic, but I'm not a programmer. A programmer dedicates himself to programming, his job is to write code, create modules or entire programs and I don't dedicate myself to that, although it has a lot to do with the things I do.
A: Even though there is a lot of reading and writing to do and I have a crossed wire in my brain that makes me have some little problems with letters, especially with some typefaces and when I'm under a lot of stress, I'm really good at it. Well, except for the syntax errors I usually make and the incomprehensible spelling errors like the absence of a letter in a word, or a word with a “k” in between a “p” and an “r”. laughs.
T: Do you write code?
A: When I write a code, I see it more like a canvas, like a box, something more graphic and modules or object-oriented programming has become something like music, which has a drum, a bass and a guitar playing at the same time time but doing different things to achieve its goal.
T: When you talk about programming concepts, it's like you're talking to me in another language.
A: Don't worry, I can teach you a bit. laughs.
T: Why this passion to protect the rights of the digital author?
A: I'm also a creator, even though I'm not famous. I make photographs, illustrations, music, 3D modeling, I usually do artistic works or not, which are digital. Everything digital can be copied and shared quickly, the world is interconnected through the internet.
NFT Collection called “Psychedelic Skulls”, created by Alex Jesús Cabello Leiva on OpenSea.io
A: I put myself in the shoes of an artist who invests money, knowledge, time, experience and creativity in making a work, such as a song or a photograph and everyone makes use of it without even his name, be recognized as a creator. Worse still, that other people profit from that work, attribute the work as their own and do not share their profits with the creator.
A: I like copyleft too, I love its philosophy, I like a work to be in the public domain, but whoever created it must always be recognized, intellectual property is a human right.
T: So you fight against piracy?
A: Yes and no!
T: How is that?
A: Knowledge is free. If a person knows how to edit photos but does not have enough money to pay for a license, he will have to have additional knowledge to use the software without having to pay for it. People always look for a way and companies must make it more difficult for them, so they end up creating the dynamic.
A: I usually buy original stuff but I also pirate. Imagine that someone has a cure for cancer but it is not in the public domain, it is a patent and then it gives you cancer. doing the treatment could cost millions and you don't have it, but you have knowledge or someone leaks on the internet about how to cure yourself of cancer and how that license works. That's where knowledge is power.
A: Sometimes I am a bit of an anarchist in my thinking, but you simply have to achieve the goal of curing yourself of cancer.
T: I would not call it anarchist but humanist.
A: But it is a little
A: But if it is a bit anarchist, because the rules exist and somehow you want to live without rules. Of course, you have to take responsibility and the consequences because everything has its pros and cons.
T: So if you're not against piracy directly, how do you help people with digital intellectual property issues?
A: I help them make it difficult for hackers and for that you have to think like them, and it's even better if you're one of them. laughs.
A: Artists need to protect their works, I simply help them fight their profit and royalty leakage, as well as get paid for it, as I have the strategic and tactical knowledge of how to do it, which the know how usually tells you. I also try to make it possible to distinguish which work is the original and which is a vulgar copy, without judging those who use the copies because those who use the copies also make an artist famous and give him a reputation. Many artists use piracy in their favor and many others have not even realized this.
A: For me it is of great importance that it is known which work is original because there are always people who value this and not only for a monetary value, but for its cultural, creative, historical and technical significance. There are many subjective elements and other objectives such as scarcity. It is the difference between a fungible and a non-fungible asset, which is why I am passionate about NFTs.
T: NFTs are a topic that is very fashionable, fortunately.
A: visit my galleries in OpenSea, I can accept any offer. laughs.
T: Does this have a lot to do with cybersecurity?
A: Very much, where there is binary data there can also be cybercrime, in addition to the fact that artists produce digital assets and information and that is where the concept of information security is applied. NFTs are based on cryptocurrencies and cryptocurrencies are based on blockchains with cryptographic algorithms and processes. Almost all the information, promotion and even the works themselves are in the digital world, whether on social networks, on web pages, in posts indexed in Google or on a sales platform.
T: So you help them with strategies and tactics, with negotiations.
A: Yes, also with remediations and even with personal protection in terms of information security, because a famous person or someone with a good income can be a potential target for black hat hackers.
T: How did you start in ethical hacking? If you can call it that. laughs.
A: It's just like that, it's like the group that's with the Jedi and those on the dark side of the force. laughs.
T: The black hats.
A: That's right.
T: Have you been to the dark side?
A: With chinazo included. laughs.
A: I leave it to your imagination.
Note: Chinazo is a Venezuelan idiom to indicate that a phrase is humorous and has a double meaning that can have a sexual and comical connotation.
T: Information security people are always portrayed as skinny or chubby with a nerdy look, reading glasses and pale. You don't have that aspect, although it is seen that you know a lot about technological issues. You have a certain military demeanor.
A: It is so and in some cases it can be so. I always had an inclination for technology, that's why I studied communications and electronics. My goal was to be a telecommunications engineer and I had stayed at a couple of universities after finishing high school. I studied at the National Guard Captain Pedro María Ochoa Morales de los Teques military high school, I wanted to continue my military career. When I graduated I didn't stay in a military university and opted to experiment with other studies, but the economic situation was not easy and the following year I entered IUMCOELFA, better known as the School of Communications of the Armed Forces. There I learned a bit about communication security and some basic notions about encryption and encryption. I excelled in studies, I was promoted as distinguished but it was a misbehavior as well as multifaceted, because I was also involved in everything that had to do with music. I lived in trouble, to the point that my altercations were always with officers who had express orders not to let me graduate because I had caused some problems in the military prosecutor's office, and they always said that I was going to change the Navy and the National Armed Forces, something that never happened, I graduated and nothing happened.
T: What you tell me is even surreal. I see you and you are all tattooed, you are rebellious and somewhat refined, no one would imagine that you were a military man. I wonder how you managed to graduate?
A: Intelligence does not apply only to studies. I think I did social engineering. laughs.
T: So military life got you into more technology and information security?
A: Maybe yes and maybe no, it is
A: I did internships in the Army's telematics maintenance division, some workshops called DTELMALG. There I learned about radio equipment repair and became fascinated with their frequency hopping and encryption systems, especially the Harris 5000 and Harris 5800 radios. While my peers were focused on learning how to repair, I was into manuals and in the oscilloscope understanding how these secure communications systems will work. When I graduated I took a Marine Corps course and I had a Rambo stuck in my head, I always liked adrenaline. When I arrived at a communications battalion in the Marine Corps, I realized that there were many technological deficiencies and that my career was going to take the direction I did not want, such as commanding troops, setting up a gate guard, the entry tax, going to parades. , talk on the radio with pre-arranged, although I was good at the latter.
T: What is the pre-arranged?
A: It's like a simple, analog encryption method. It consists of a simple substitution method where the standard responses of radio communications are replaced by codes, like Inspector Rodríguez from the Qué Locura program who said “Pacheco scratches 8”
T: It's not from my time, when they broadcast it on TV it was very cool, but if I got to see it some time later on YouTube, it was Moncho, a crack at humor.
T: And how did he do in that environment?
A: The positive thing is that I was surrounded by pure communicating non-commissioned officers, coming from the same school and although they were higher in the hierarchy, I made good friends. Some superiors saw my potential and gave me responsibilities such as giving classes on the communications systems that were in place, managing the equipment and even being in the equipment maintenance workshop. That kept me on the tech stuff and I got creative. I started making projects and submitting them to a Navy science and technology contest. Some of the projects came from ideas of some electrical circuits that had been implemented in other countries which were modified and used for other purposes, geek topics such as electronic contamination, control systems and an encryption system. The encryption system I think was one of the turning points. Maybe it was the second or third turning point, although my story is not limited to about 5 turning points in a Hollywood movie script.
T: It is rare to see a person who knows terms applied in audiovisual communication who is involved in the technological area. Do you consider yourself a geek?
A: Maybe geek is my last name, hahahaha. But I'm not the geekiest, I get along with geeks and I know more geeks than me. laughs.
T: How was that encryption system?
A: It was an external encryption module for radio equipment. 70% of the hardware was what they call free hardware, something similar to open source software, which I used to take the analog voice signals, convert them into a digital file, apply an algorithm that combined encryption with symmetric encryption. The module also did the reverse process, in addition to the fact that files could be sent by connecting a computer to the module by doing a couple of stenographic tricks. The System provided a secure communications solution between radio equipment of different brands and technologies, which were incompatible. In the Armed Forces there was a cocktail of American, Israeli, Belarusian, Russian and Chinese-made radio sets that could not communicate with each other reliably. A failure that was always underestimated by intelligence. This module, with a couple of modifications, could even be used for telephone communications.
T: Sounds like a thousand dollar project, maybe millions. Was it implemented?
A: Unfortunately not. The project did scale quite a bit, until it reached the Ministry of Science and Technology. Economic studies and feasibility studies were carried out. The bureaucracy showed its most negative side. The project was going to be assigned to a superior officer who was more interested in the budget that he was going to handle than in the project itself, and from one moment to another they were asking me for all the technical details, program and so on. Everything indicated that I was not going to be the head of my own project, much less receive the credits for it. I had already delivered everything that corresponded to development, logistics and finances, however, I began to manage all the hardware and software as a black box. That is why I received some warning calls that I took as a form of intimidation and I simply disappeared from the project. Then I started my retirement process.
T: With that project of national and strategic interest they let you go?
A: I had my obstacles to withdraw. Another problem is that few people had the vision to make national developments. Few people bet on technological solutions, everything was diverted to an issue of military discipline and it was not seen beyond that. It was all about having polished boots, having a nice uniform and following the orders of superiors, without critical or creative thinking, it was all about following orders and even fulfilling whims. Personnel were underutilized and if you were an engineer, you couldn't come up with anything that wasn't within the unit commander's plans and ambitions. There was no synergy and empathy, all of that I saw as an entropic system which is its own enemy. If I got offers in exchange for not leaving low.
T: Like which ones?
A: Go abroad or change my military unit, but one way or another I realized that I didn't fit in with the system and my outright rebellion surfaced.
T: Did you start being misbehaving?
A: It was already misconduct, I traveled out of the country a couple of times without permission and what went through my mind was that I was not a prisoner to be locked up in my country. I played in a reggae and ska band, I appeared several times on television playing, although that did not cause me any problems. He also practiced extreme sports and for that reason he was undisciplined according to his concept. On one occasion I did longboard downhill in the command of the marine infantry of Venezuela and the admiral who commanded the marine infantry division saw me, I got into trouble, although it was a gafo problem that ended up being pure psychoterror. This fact made me very popular. That commander named Diego Guerra Barreto, later became Commander General of the Navy.
A: Many senior officers called me the surfer or the skater, something that didn't offend me at all, because I love those sports. They called me that in a friendly way and to joke around, I had no problems with those officers, those who envied me and even hated me called me "El Cabello Leiva".
A: With the discharge process, I did make a rude gesture to a battalion commander whom everyone feared because he was characterized by being loud and severe, named Alejandro Díaz Ramírez, who later got into trouble and ended up hiding in what they call the empire (the United States). Many officers remember me for that insistence and count it as one of my great deeds. laughs.
A: In my discharge process, he was sent to a commission to modernize and repair a batch of archaic radio equipment, disincorporated from the time of the Vietnam War, whose most modern component was the transistor. It was the AN/PRC-77, which was half reverse engineered because my commission was suspended and because the interest was always to buy equipment abroad, since it was more convenient for superiors to handle items in dollars. and traveling abroad to do perceptual control and courses, something that represented a much higher cost when developing a nationally produced team, in addition to the multiple benefits that this brings, such as being able to market it in other countries in the future. There was a foreign consultant who wanted the modernization to be done in his country in order to win that contract.
A: I reserve his identity, rank and nationality.
A: I had focused the topic of modernization on developing a VHF personal radio equipment with modular adaptations, which could join other modules and expand its capabilities such as its power, repetition system, encryption systems and even frequency hopping. A multipurpose equipment that could be developed incrementally and would give the possibility of developing systems in other frequency bands such as HF and UHF with civil and military usability. Unfortunately, there was never any financial, logistical or qualified personnel support. Someone told me that this project was useless because the armed forces were going to send a group of communicators to China to study to build a military radio factory in Venezuela. I thought it was going to be just another assembly plant like a private project that had been done without noticeable success.
T: Was the radio factory made?
A: Well no, 10 years have passed by this date and the first equipment developed is not known.
T: What happened next? Did you go down once?
A: I sent the folder several times and for any silly thing it was returned. I was sent back to the Communications Battalion and had problems with the unit commander. A captain named Acuña Scott sent me to replace a bugle card and then wanted to insinuate that I was a thief and that I had contracted with the electronic card provider to make a profit, that is, he was calling me corrupt and a thief. At that time I complained to the Marine Corps Chief of Staff Admiral, who understood my situation and transferred me to the Marine Corps Telematics Division. There I was working as a telematics officer with a group of communications officers from the same school I graduated from. They were all my superiors, however, there was synergy and camaraderie, the objectives were met. The head of the division was an admiral with the last name Morillo, who was aware of the importance of the importance of the technological area and the team, with the few technological resources they had, did their job and valued the technical knowledge of the other. That admiral helped speed up my process and I was able to retire without much inconvenience.
T: From there, did you start providing services to artists abroad?
A: No, it was a multi-faceted process. First I went on a trip to Mexico. When I returned I worked as a photographer, cameraman, editor, I was related to magazines and female eroticism projects, I worked in an outdoor advertising company, I played with a ska band, I did a little of everything.
T: The Venezuelan military wasted your work on the cryptographic system.
A: It is so. However, when I went into retirement I was contacted by a communication officer, surnamed Aceituno, known for teaching encryption classes, so that he could be part of the team of the communications division of the armed forces and integrate a multidisciplinary team in order to create an encryption algorithm.
T: And what happened?
A: I told him that I had created an algorithm that needed to be improved and that I was also working on an external module as hardware. I filled out the forms, however, when researching the salary template of the Ministry of Defense for civilian personnel and what corresponded to me, it seemed absurd, disrespectful and I left.
T: Low wages.
T: You were always linked to art in one way or another.
T: What else did you do? I was struck by the fact that you worked with eroticism.
A: Everyone is struck by that, hahahaha.
A: I was the producer of a modeling contest, I participated in a news project where its presenter got naked, I was involved with an erotic magazine, but I was also very involved in electronic music events, I knew many DJs, I was an audiovisual director in a reality show of a modeling contest that was never published on TV due to economic problems of the producers and approval problems of the TV channels.
T: I know that you have designed particular protocols for the information security of companies that work in the digital field, you have also advised on innovation management, creative management, on secure communications, anti-espionage protocols, protection against spyware such as Pegasus and Galileo, protection of intellectual property in the digital field, protection of web pages against cyberattacks and communication strategies.
A: Your contact has briefed you well on the things I've done independently.
T: It is impressive to know that people from countries as far away as Poland and Canada are your clients. How is it possible that you are the first recommendation that a Polish businessman gives when he wants to inquire about information security and digital intellectual property?
A: I have the benefit of obtaining knowledge from different areas, which I integrate to generate ideas. A foreigner who had been linked to an embassy in Venezuela contacted me because he had met me, he also knew that he knew about technical matters and that he had knowledge in the creative area. I advised a couple of visual artists and they began to recommend me, something underground, from person to person.
T: A complicated Target?
A: The areas in which I was advising were very specialized and the people who came to me were because they had already had problems such as information leaks, theft of works, leaks of inappropriate photos, data hijacking and even the need to establish secure communications. . They had been looking for someone in their country and their needs were not met. My services are personal, adapted to each particularity and I don't even advertise what I do.
T: I checked the information on the internet and I only find NFT works, boudoir photos and landscape photos. Few elements indicate that you have knowledge in the area of Cryptography and information security. Why?
A: People and social media algorithms like photos. laughs.
A: I do what I like and many times I share it. There are topics that I prefer to keep discreet on the internet, even though I have nothing to hide. It's not about me, it's about my beautiful wife and son. I also don't want it to be all about ambitions.
T: That is to say, that your ambition is to do what you like, that your family is well and be calm.
A: It is so.
T: There is a lot of migration of Venezuelans to Europe, especially to Spain. Many of the immigrants are very talented people who leave their country due to insecurity rates and the economic situation in Venezuela. Why haven't you migrated?
A: I have been out of the country, either as a tourist or doing a specific job. Venezuela is a complex country that I love.
T: It shows because you share many photos of Venezuelan landscapes.
A: Yes, besides that I also worked in the tourism sector, specifically in adventure tourism, I took foreigners to the most emblematic places such as Canaima, Los Roques, Choroní and the Gran Sabana. He always took the opportunity to take photos and videos.
T: Do you speak Polish?
A: No, I only know a few things.
T: And French?
A: No, although I'm good at languages. With English I get by.
T: Do you find it difficult to live in another country?
A: I don't see it as difficult, but there are many commitments in my country. I have been offered to live in Poland, Colombia and Germany but it is not as easy as taking a suitcase and leaving. I love to travel and may be in the future.
T: What do you think about the brain drain from your country?
A: Many leave because they see few possibilities in Venezuela and they are not criticized. Others only have that alternative. Many people believe that the Venezuelan talent that succeeds outside of Venezuela is because a foreign company seduced it, but in most cases this is not the case. I think it's very narrow-minded to say that talented people are stolen from us, the reality is that talented people are victims of an environment that is no longer as vibrant and a bit complex for innovation, development and success.
T: It's illogical to think that people just made the decision to leave.
A: Exactly, those who succeed outside the country and here in Venezuela, in a dignified way, are equally congratulated and admired. It also seems to me quite astute and convenient that companies, and even governments, make attractive offers to talents that have not been able to develop their potential in Venezuela.
T: Are you saying that sarcastically?
Year! I simply think that it is a valid strategy and if it ends up being effective, it is for a reason.
T: If they did not value the attentive or if he did not have more attractive opportunities, he simply leaves.
A: That's right, poor management of human talent has these kinds of consequences. I widely believe in success through teamwork and I am also aware of individual potential, so there must be a balance. The ultimate goal is for people to be happy. That is why there have been so many wars, that is the reason for the conflicts, the scams, crimes, corruption, everything is about unhappy people.
T: I had not seen it from that point of view. I like it and it makes sense.
T: What are your next projects?
A: I like complex issues and since they are highly uncertain projects, I prefer not to make them known before achieving a concrete result.
T: Sure, for information security.
T: Finally, do you admire a person in particular, someone who has inspired you?
To: Richard Branson.
T: Any reference from Venezuela?
T: It has been a pleasure to talk with you.
A: We have to do another interview so we can talk about you and I ask the questions. laughs.