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Security clashes with cloud: Offensive Security CEO talks cultural mindsets, leadership challenges

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Ning Wang, Offensive Security CEO

Taking on the chief executive position at any company can be a daunting prospect. Every organization has a different culture, processes, and people, and in the world of cybersecurity, board leaders not only have to deal with internal management but also the ever-changing face of threats their customers face.

Offensive Security, known for the development of the Linux Kali penetration testing suite and security certification courses including OSCP Certified Professional, OSEE Exploitation Expert, and the new OSWE Web Expert qualification, became the responsibility of the new CEO Ning Wang three months ago.

Wang’s journey began in China, where she grew up. After studying physics at the University of California, Berkeley, she kickstarted her career at McKinsey & Company before making the shift to startups during the .com bubble, Lynda.com, and finally serving as chief financial officer (CFO) and chief operations officer (COO) of bug bounty platform HackerOne.

The executive then joined Offensive Security, founded in 2000, as its chief executive officer after the cybersecurity firm received a capital investment from Spectrum Equity. 

In an interview with ZDNet, Wang told us that her career has been based on problem-solving, whether practical or business-related, and this is an area of expertise which she has now brought to the table with her latest role at Offensive Security.

One of the first goals, Wang says, is to make sure that communication lines between board levels and general staff are improved and expanded upon, an ongoing trend which the executive has observed during her time in cybersecurity.

“Cybersecurity is no longer just the job of some security director in the company or an afterthought,” Wang says. “In fact, it is on the agenda of the CEO and on the mind of the CEO and board. At HackerOne, a lot of times those initiatives were [issued] directly from the CEO and the board.”

It is not just about making sure executives communicate and drive the company forward by involving staff at all levels — Wang believes that the heart of Offensive Security’s future success is also reliant on the implementation of a “try harder” mindset; not only for employees, but also for the cybersecurity industry and students at large.

Try harder, encourage, and communicate are therefore the recipe ingredients for Wang’s new role.

“When I first started there was a lot of anxiety around all the change that’s going to happen — is the company culture going to vanish? Is the company and the new leader only going to worry about financial numbers and not going to care about the culture and people?,” Wang explained. “But you can’t grow a company, you can’t grow a business, [when] you don’t have people who are really motivated and really are behind your mission.” 

“As a CEO I try to really communicate and listen, and and I don’t have the answers to all the questions but at least I can listen and facilitate more discussions.”

With any change in leadership, however, there will always be resistance to some ideas. In Offensive Security’s case, cloud computing has shown itself to be one such challenge.

See also: FireEye debuts Windows Commando VM as Linux Kali rival

Offensive Security, like many other organizations, relied mainly on in-house applications and systems hooked up to their own data centers. One change that Wang wanted to implement was the increased use of cloud-based services and resources. (There are still some times when on-premise solutions are most suitable than full cloud systems, however.)

“As a security company, this company has — in the past — hardly used any cloud-based tools,” the CEO said. “Any tool we use, whether it’s a conference call system, a ticketing system, or a chat system — it’s all either homegrown or it’s all on-premise where we host the software.”

Given the simplicity, ease of access, and resources available through cloud services such as Salesforce apps or AWS, Wang wanted to bring her new charge up to speed through modern technologies. The idea was originally “met with resistance,” Wang says, but eventually, her team came around to the idea.

TechRepublic: 90% of large tech companies vulnerable to email spoofing

“Initially the idea was, ‘What? no, that’s not how we do things — we are a security company,” Wang explained. “The change is happening and was met with some initial resistance and fear but now people are embracing it.”

Upon taking up the role, Wang says there was not a single full-time sales or marketing employee. Another personal mission was to make sure Offensive Security became well-known not just with practitioners but also the public at large.

In order to do so, the company has increased its focus on advertising and has expanded its range of online certificates including OSWE Web Expert. So far, the feedback has been positive from alumni testing out the new qualification.

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Three months in, there are many changes yet to be made in the organization, with a pivot to the cloud only one of many planned. However, Wang believes that modernization and getting the firm’s name out there is the key to future success. 

“[Linux Kali / OS certifications] are really well-known among the practitioners, whether it is penetration testers or hackers, [but] it is not yet as well-known among the people,” Wang added. “We are a very good brand when it comes to training security people so in order to do that we have to make sure we have the infrastructure in the company to be able to support that growth, and we have to make sure our products will be cutting edge.”

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Adventist Risk Management Data Protection Infrastructure

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Companies always want to enhance their ability to quickly address pressing business needs. Toward that end, they look for new ways to make their IT infrastructures more efficient—and more cost effective. Today, those pressing needs often center around data protection and regulatory compliance, which was certainly the case for Adventist Risk Management. What they wanted was an end-to-end, best-in-class solution to meet their needs. After trying several others, they found the perfect combination with HYCU and Nutanix, which provided:

  • Ease of deployment
  • Outstanding ROI
  • Overall TCO improvement

Nutanix Cloud Platform provides a software-defined hyperconverged infrastructure, while HYCU offers purpose-built backup and recovery for Nutanix. Compared to the previous traditional infrastructure and data protection solutions in use at Adventist Risk Management, Nutanix and HYCU simplified processes, speeding day-to-day operations up to 75%. Now, migration and update activities typically scheduled for weekends can be performed during working hours and help to increase IT staff and management quality of life. HYCU further increased savings by providing faster and more frequent points of recovery as well as better DR Recovery Point Objective (RPO) and Recovery Time Objective (RTO) by increasing the ability to do daily backups from one to four per day.

Furthermore, the recent adoption of Nutanix Objects, which provides secure and performant S3 storage capabilities, enhanced the infrastructure by:

    • Improving overall performance for backups
    • Adding security against potential ransomware attacks
    • Replacing components difficult to manage and support

In the end, Nutanix and HYCU enabled their customer to save money, improve the existing environment, and, above all, meet regulatory compliance requirements without any struggle.

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Secure Insight: GigaOm Partners with the CISO Series

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Don’t look now, but GigaOm, the analyst firm that enables smart businesses to future-proof their decisions, is forging new partnerships to extend its reach and better inform busy IT decision makers. On Thursday, the company announced it was teaming with the CISO Series to share content and better support the community of chief information security officers, security practitioners, and security vendors.

“The CISO Series is one we have admired for a while because they have a very similar aim: They help security professionals become more knowledgeable and understand how their roles are changing,” said Ben Book, GigaOm founder and CEO. “We saw a clear common interest and are delighted to be working together.”

The CISO Series brand has built a formidable reputation through its podcasts, blogs, video chats, and live events for the security community. It has added the extremely popular CyberSecurity Headlines podcast to its stable this year, which joins the CISO/Security Vendor Relationship and Defense in Depth podcasts. Every Friday at 10am Pacific Time, the CISO Series hosts its highly engaging and fun weekly live CISO Series Video Chat, which viewers can register for here.

The channel partnership connects two of the strongest, fastest-growing brands in enterprise IT content production. The agreement enables the CISO Series to share exclusive GigaOm reports with its audience ahead of publication, while GigaOm is able to share insights from the CISO Series’ various publications through its social channels and newsletters. The CISO Series joins other media firms, such as The Register and SDXCentral, as official GigaOm Channel Partners.

“We are delighted to be working with GigaOm because we’re not only both addressing the same audience, but we’re also both trying to bring education and understanding to both the security vendor and practitioner communities,” said David Spark, managing editor and executive producer at the CISO Series. “GigaOm is providing some excellent reports that we’re leaning on for our discussions and reporting across all of our shows.”

Spark continued: “We are always tweaking our programming to bring the best and most up-to-date resources and we’re really impressed with both the volume and quality GigaOm is delivering. Not only are we impressed with their editorial work, but we also appreciate their business branding. It’s something we felt comfortable about aligning with the CISO Series brand as well.”

Check out the CISO Series schedule at http://crowdcast.io/cisoseries, or visit cisoseries.com for more information about the CISO Series and its weekly Video Chats.

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Key Criteria for Evaluating Vulnerability Management Tools

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Vulnerability management tools scan your IT estate to help identify and mitigate security risks and weaknesses. These tools can facilitate the development of a more comprehensive vulnerability management program. Leveraging people, processes, and technologies, successful initiatives effectively identify, classify, prioritize, and remediate security threats.

A security vulnerability is a weakness that can compromise the confidentiality, integrity, and availability (CIA) of information. Attackers are constantly looking to exploit defects in software code or insecure configurations. Vulnerabilities can exist anywhere in the software stack, from web applications and databases to infrastructure components such as load balancers, firewalls, machine and container images, operating systems, and libraries. This includes code used in the CI/CD pipeline as well as the infrastructure-as-code (IAC) that defines the compute, network, and storage infrastructure.

Recent cybersecurity events have exposed widespread vulnerabilities involving the exploitation of zero-day malware and unknown weaknesses. Threat actors continually discover new exploitation tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) to take advantage of weaknesses throughout integrated systems. Moreover, identifying breach paths is increasingly complicated due to the widespread adoption of ephemeral services.

Vulnerability management solutions should provide end-to-end visibility of the protect-surface by aggregating both platform and application risks in a single pane of glass, while leveraging prioritized remediation based on business risk and threat context for efficiency. Containerized workloads deployed via DevOps pipelines have unique security requirements that demand a fully integrated vulnerability assessment to be automated into cloud platform services running containerized workloads.

The path to a mature security posture starts with the ability to identify vulnerabilities in software code, third-party libraries, and at runtime. In addition, the cloud platform used to host your applications should be scanned for misconfigurations. This requires the use of policy configuration baselines, benchmarks, and compliance standards that apply to both the infrastructure and the code used to build it. As organizations implement security guardrails early in the software development lifecycle (SDLC), they can take advantage of cloud-native culture to ensure network and security tools are used throughout all phases of the SDLC.

This GigaOm report explores the key criteria and emerging technologies that IT decision makers should evaluate when choosing a vulnerability management solution. The key criteria report, together with the GigaOm radar report that evaluates relevant products, provides a framework to help organizations assess the solutions currently available on the market and how these tools fit with their requirements.

How to Read this Report

This GigaOm report is one of a series of documents that helps IT organizations assess competing solutions in the context of well-defined features and criteria. For a fuller understanding consider reviewing the following reports:
Key Criteria report: A detailed market sector analysis that assesses the impact that key product features and criteria have on top-line solution characteristics—such as scalability, performance, and TCO—that drive purchase decisions.

GigaOm Radar report: A forward-looking analysis that plots the relative value and progression of vendor solutions along multiple axes based on strategy and execution. The Radar report includes a breakdown of each vendor’s offering in the sector.

Vendor Profile: An in-depth vendor analysis that builds on the framework developed in the Key Criteria and Radar reports to assess a company’s engagement within a technology sector. This analysis includes forward-looking guidance around both strategy and product.

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