Crossing the chasm: the road from CISO to Senseon
Brave new role
For twenty years, I worked in large corporate companies, dealing with customers from all over the world whilst representing established international brands. I played multiple roles from vendor, to partner, and even CISO, consistently working with customers and decision makers across the industry.
This year, I attended my sixth RSA, but for the first time was representing a company that had just secured its seed fundraising round, Senseon. This seemed somewhat odd to many of my friends there, who thought I might have lost my marbles, trading working for large global companies with the resources to match, to representing the new kid on the block, and joining an even more competitive arena.
I feel very fortunate to have experienced cyber security both as a buyer during my time as a CISO and as a vendor.
This rather odd, extremely polar combination has given me a unique insight across the cyber security landscape, and has really helped me to empathise with the challenges that both sides face.
This experience has led me to believe that Senseon is something special, and I hope in this blog post to explain some of the reasoning behind my decision to join this exciting new venture. Senseon’s unique approach to AI cyber security is shaking up the industry, and as we enter a new epoch in threat detection and response, there really is only one place for me to be.
My story starts back in 2000. I was fresh out of university, and had known for a while that emerging technology was something I liked, but had little to no foundation in it. I was very surprised when, after a quick application as part of a class project in career planning, I found myself being interviewed for a role at MCI, and was even more surprised when I was lucky enough to be accepted.
This was the first of many corporate roles over twenty-odd years in everything from multinational telecommunications companies to specialist security providers. I loved my time in these various companies, and found within myself a real passion for leading teams through challenging projects to achieve rewarding goals, especially in relation to emerging technology. There became a running joke with my friends that before a new technology had even come out, I would already know everything about it.
I learned early in my career that technology has a real, tangible impact on people.
Technology has the ability to do such wondrous and amazing things, yet used with malicious intent it can also cause great harm. People rely on it in so many ways that breaches really can be life and death. Security providers have a responsibility to do all they can to keep technology secure, and this is a responsibility that I take very seriously.
I think this is one of the reasons that David Atkinson, Founder and CEO of Senseon, and I get along so well, and why perhaps we came together in business. Early in our security careers, we were both faced with incidents that had a direct impact on people and corporations, and we both saw through our experiences the negative impact of security in a very real and material way. These formative experiences have been behind everything I’ve done since, and will continue to guide my role in security.
Three problems with the market
During my time in the industry, I had noticed that there were three main problems starting to affect most companies. First, struggling to keep pace with increasing digitisation; second, being overwhelmed by the saturation of security vendors; and third, the inability of traditional tools to detect and respond to threats.
This first problem isn’t specific to cyber security, but rather is applicable to the market as a whole. Modern businesses have to be able to do business anywhere, anytime, with anyone, and to do so in a secure fashion. We’re witnessing a digital revolution, in which companies increasingly utilise the advantages of technology and the Internet to achieve their business objectives. The proliferation of connected technology in the workplace has blurred the line between companies’ digital estates and the Internet, creating borderless entities that conventional solutions struggle to protect.
This is putting great pressure on boardroom executives, who are struggling to keep up with emerging technology. The need to adopt and adapt quickly is pushing the need to secure further down priority lists. Many providers of technology are under pressure to bring their products to market quickly, and don’t have time to do the proper cyber due diligence.
The second problem is specific to cyber security, and is something that became abundantly clear again at RSA this year. How do businesses choose between the thousands of security tools out there?
Every vendor claims it’s the best, and that its technology is unique. Choosing the right tool is an enormous and arduous task.
You have to consider necessity, viability, scalability, and durability, amongst a host of other factors.
For CISOs and decision makers, understanding the real benefits of security solutions and being able to cut through the noise of marketing fluff is crucial. Many have privately expressed to me that they just don’t know where to begin, nor whom to trust. This is especially the case of those who have been stung in recent years and are unhappy with conventional tools. Smaller companies too, who may not have the time or resources to spend choosing between hundreds of different vendors, find this especially problematic.
The result is a rather volatile, dramatic, and competitive marketplace, as various companies fight like vultures weighing up who their friends and enemies are in the start up community and enterprise space. It’s no wonder that CISOs and security managers have been driven underground, overwhelmed as they are by the sheer volume and noise of the thousands of security companies out there. This makes it more difficult for truly innovative companies to stand apart for the thousands of others out there.
The third problem relates to the inability of traditional tools to respond to modern threats. In previous roles, I evaluated hundreds, even thousands, of new solutions and startups. Many were wonderful, yet their inability to work alongside other great solutions was immensely frustrating. Customer problems could frequently be attributed to nothing more than two tools struggling to work together, leaving a lack of visibility between these various single-point solutions.
Traditional single-point cyber security tools attempt to detect threats from just one point of view. This limited approach allows attackers to hide in the gaps created by these various single-point tools.
Conventional solutions don’t provide organisations with the full visibility that they need to stay secure.
This problem is further exacerbated by the increasing velocity of attacks and growing attacker innovation.
All of this puts a great burden on security teams to manually sift through a large number of false positives alerts, piecing together information from multiple tools, which is time consuming, costly, and ultimately decreases job satisfaction. Attackers are presented with an advantage, and by slipping through the gaps between single-point solutions can hide undetected in amongst the large volume of false positives alerts created by these legacy tools.
The wrong tools for the job
After almost two decades in the industry, these problems were really starting to get to me. Whilst I still enjoyed many aspects of my role within the corporate world, it wasn’t quite what I wanted anymore. In large corporations, you have a big brush and use it to paint broad strokes to do lots of things with lots of companies. The backing of a great company and the trust instilled in it through decades of good performance means you have the power to make meaningful positive changes in the world.
Yet size and establishment are also somewhat problematic. The threat landscape is changing at an ever increasing rate, with traditional security tools unable to keep up. Corporations can be slow moving, often due to bureaucracy and process, and don’t have the nimbleness of start ups necessary to push innovation. With attackers constantly innovating to stay ahead of defenders, cyber security solutions too must innovate to even have a chance of staying in this cat-and-mouse game.
I wanted to do something that would actually make a difference to solve the problem. Conventional approaches just weren’t working, and the industry needed something truly revolutionary to come along and shake it up.
If I was going to improve the lives of security professionals, I would have to come at things afresh and do something completely different. That’s when I met David Atkinson.
A chance encounter
It was January 2018, and David and I were both delegates on a UK DIT mission to the US. We got talking, and David invited me to breakfast to talk about his business plan. It was an inauspicious start, with the breakfast room not exactly my cup of tea. A decaying Hawaiian decor was a somewhat odd choice of design, with fake palm trees not filling me with confidence that the business plan I was about to hear was any more real.
I had agreed to meet David for fifteen minutes, but over an hour later we were still talking.
David’s vision and initiative even then were really something quite magical, and resonated with me both in his message and its timing.
His passion and background were extremely relevant to what he was hoping to do, and the idea so simple (albeit extremely hard to pull off), so obvious in hindsight, that the only thing I struggled to understand was his Northern Irish accent!
A new approach to security
Senseon’s innovation, known as AI Triangulation, would transform threat detection and response. Senseon deploys its senses across endpoints, networks, and Investigator Bots - which look at potential threats from an outside point of view - to detect unusual activity anywhere in the organisation. Senseon’s unique AI Triangulation technology thinks like a human analyst.
By observing threats from multiple perspectives, pausing for thought, and learning from experience, Senseon automates the process of investigation.
In this way, Senseon detects even the most subtle and complex of cyber attacks, increases the accuracy of threat detection, and dramatically reduces the number of false positive alerts.
Senseon’s approach is unprecedented. The platform was built from the ground up to hold autonomous conversations across its senses. This dramatically speeds up threat detection and response capabilities, increases accuracy and visibility, and simplifies work for security analysts. By addressing the genuine problems facing the industry and rising to this difficult challenge, Senseon has ushered in a new epoch in cyber security. David and his team of Senseoneers have gone out of the way to meet the problems head on rather than simply rush a single-point tool to product for a quick buck.
AI: beyond the hype
What cemented my faith in this technology, though, is its rare ability to clearly explicate exactly how it utilises artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) in security. Recent scientific research has enabled the calm and measured application of these technologies into the Senseon platform. Senseon’s succinct ability to clearly explain how we utilise AI and ML to achieve our goals is something that we find our customers really appreciate. We can make it real and tangible for them in a way that other providers can’t, and pride ourselves on being a guiding light for something that is often quite misunderstood and shrouded in mystery.
Security professionals don’t want another black box solution with a blinking light; they want to know how the machine is thinking.
We need to make security a cultural issue, and Senseon’s clear explication of how its technology utilises AI and ML, along with its user-friendly interface, goes a long way towards doing this. There is so much mystery around our world of cyber that we should do everything we can to be more inclusive. Our solutions should give visibility, make security understandable and consumable, and cater to all skill sets in a way that makes security accessible. We have to make security cultural, or we’ll continue to have massive breaches and intrusions, regardless of the technology we utilise. That this is clearly part of Senseon’s aim, that it is not simply out there to make a quick buck, is what drew me so strongly towards being its US CEO.
These are interesting times to be in cyber security. We have seen a dramatic shift in the security landscape, which is now unrecognisable from where it was five years ago. AI and ML will continue to be leveraged in meaningful ways to help with some of the problems we’re facing, such as the skills shortage, or the increasing velocity of attacks.
We have to make machines smarter and enable humans to do more with less.
The industry does not have enough people, nor good enough technology, to quickly identify the velocity of attacks coming at us. The industry has had enough, and I’m proud to be a part of Senseon and to share their desire to address these issues.
As for me, I want nothing more than to help Senseon become as successful and as amazing an organisation as we’re able to make it. I want to see companies around the world benefit from this wonderful company that’s very quickly growing into a market leader. Senseon will make people’s lives better, and that for me is just such a wonderful, and important thing to be a part of. I could not be more proud of what we’ve created and of the journey so far, right back to those plastic palm trees. I love my husband, I love my kids, and I love being a Senseoneer.
About the author
Kate Kuehn has been an active thought leader in security and advanced network technologies for close to 20 years. Kate’s expertise and passion for innovation technology compliments the Senseon vision, and she led some of the industry’s first projects in DDOS, Ethernet as a network (CPA), SaaS, and IaaS. Her main areas of focus include the role of security within digital transformation initiatives, and diversity and STEAM outreach.