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A Look Inside: Chatting With Neocova’s Cybersecurity Experts

The world of cybersecurity is always changing as a function of new threats, challenges, and opportunities. As a result, the sector is booming in terms of career opportunities. Many universities are adding cybersecurity-focused classes or even degree plans to provide higher education opportunities for future workers, and the job market in the space is booming — the demand for information security analysts is expected to grow by 32 percent by 2028. Cybersecurity Ventures projected 3.5 million unfilled cybersecurity jobs for the 2021 year. This means that cybersecurity professionals are among the most in-demand around the world and will be for years to come.

Earlier this month, we broke down cybersecurity within the financial services space to kick off Cybersecurity Awareness Month (CSAM). This week, our team wanted to celebrate the in-house experts that help keep us, and our customers, safe from cyber threats. Ron Weinberg (Principal Security Architect) and Robert O’Connor (Chief Information Security Officer) are the minds working tirelessly behind the scenes to help us stay educated, aware, and protected. They shared with us some details about their past careers, their love for cybersecurity, and their favorite memories or projects on the job below. 

Robert O’Conner has worked as a security specialist for 30 years. Most notably, he was the Deputy Director of Enterprise Information Security at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). He established the first-ever cloud computing environment for the U.S. Intelligence Community in 2014, implementing the air-gapped Amazon Web Services (AWS) Region to process top-secret information. But his favorite project is even more impressive than that. “I was responsible for converting the president’s daily brief from paper book to electronic format,” Robert shared. “This was a summary of all of the nation’s most sensitive intelligence, that goes to the president every single day. That was certainly an interesting and impactful challenge for me to participate in.” 

Ron Weinberg has worked in information security for over 25 years, spanning the government, healthcare, education, and financial technology industries. He focuses primarily on security controls, threat modeling, vulnerability and risk management, incident response, and digital forensics. For Ron, intrusion prevention marks his favorite project — in particular, the system he implemented at the US customs data center. “The system we implemented was in direct response to an ongoing Nimda worm attack,” Ron revealed. “This worm came out in 2000 and took out a lot of networks — state, county, and federal agencies were shutting down. We managed to limit the damage to four developer machines, all of which we immediately took offline to avert the crisis.” 

When asked where they think cybersecurity is moving in the future, both Robert and Ron had similar perspectives. “Cybersecurity is always changing, and the pace at which it changes is increasing in velocity,” Robert mentioned. “The bad guys are smart. They are always using new tools and techniques. As a result, machine learning and AI are going to be used more on both the offensive and defensive sides. There are always going to be a lot of interesting things to figure out. Future cybersecurity professionals will be required to remain creative, willing to chart new territories, and agile.” 

Ron echoed Robert’s point. “Cybersecurity is constantly evolving, and cybercriminals have gotten far more sophisticated. These are not the annoying ‘script kitties’ from years ago. They are often heavily resourced organizations with a corporate structure, and some of the ransomware gangs have better customer support than corporate software. Cybercriminals have turned into full-fledged companies that are trying to find new ways to monetize. So the solutions to these threats have to get bigger and bolder, too.” 

Lastly, we asked Ron and Robert what they believe to be the most useful degrees and early jobs in cybersecurity. Ron enforced the importance of exposure to early types of technology. “Dev and forensics/systems backgrounds will help,” he shared. “Knowing how systems work will help you to identify when they are not working correctly.” 

Robert, however, believes that the road to a cybersecurity career doesn’t have to be so direct. “I have seen people with a combination of creative backgrounds and technical backgrounds do very well in security,” he mentioned. “There is a place for everyone in this space. At a previous job, I did security audits for a bank around its vendors and suppliers. One of the requirements is that the vendor erases data (at this time, hard drives) securely when they are no longer needed, and document it. The guy who was in charge of security for this vendor took me into his office. It turned out that he was a guitar player. He would collect all the hard drives, and when they needed erasing, he would pull out his guitar with the PV amp and he would set the drives on top of the amp and start playing music. The electromagnetic field from the amplifier securely erased all the hard drives.” 

“Sometimes,” Robert continued, “a little outside-the-box thinking can be very effective and work well.”

At Neocova, we believe outside-the-box thinking can be the difference between good cybersecurity and great cybersecurity. We are grateful to have such creative, smart, and dedicated thought leaders helping us to drive a new standard of excellence around cybersecurity.