Back up and encrypt all data on network — regularly, consistently and as often as possible.
Use secure communications — both in and out of the office. Do not let people connect to your network without a secure VPN.
Ensure that people are using quality, frequently changed passwords on EVERYTHING they do. This is the absolute easiest way for criminals to get into your network. Require that passwords are complex.
As a part of our series about “5 Things You Need To Know To Optimize Your Company’s Approach to Data Privacy and Cybersecurity”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jack Blount, President and CEO of INTRUSION, Inc., a leading provider of entity identification, high speed data mining, cybercrime and advanced persistent threat detection products. He is leading the development of the company’s newest cybersecurity solution for the enterprise, INTRUSION Shield, which promises to change the way companies address cybercrime.
Most recently, Blount founded a strategic consultancy for enterprise, startup and federal government organizations. Prior to that, he served as CIO of the United States Department of Agriculture where he was responsible for designing a new, 10-layer cyber security architecture, protecting more than 100,000 employees and billions of dollars.
Blount has an extensive career in technology as a visionary in the personal computer, local area networking, ERP, mobile computing, big data, cybersecurity, and AI fields. His experience includes roles at IBM and Novell, where he served as SVP of Business Development and helped expand its business from 50M dollars to 2B dollars in just six years. Blount has served as the CTO, COO, and CEO of eight technology, turnaround companies, and has served on twelve technology company Boards of Directors.
Blount graduated from Southern Methodist University with a degree in Mathematics and did his graduate MBA studies while working at IBM.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I grew up in a typical family in Kansas City, Missouri. I am the second child in a family of four siblings. My father was a Methodist minister, so I grew up in the church. I had a lot of encouragement and support from my dad, who always believed — and instilled in me a belief — that I could do anything. He used to say, “Find broken things and fix them,” so that’s what I’ve done for my whole career. I was hired at IBM as tech support while I was still in college and they were having a tech support problem. I bet my boss that I could write the code to fix it within 90 days — and I did. I have also led the successful turnaround of six different companies.
Is there a particular story that inspired you to pursue a career in cybersecurity? We’d love to hear it.
If I had to point to one thing, it was probably when I was working at IBM and they were having a security issue on their mainframes. I was assigned to a team to work on creating a product to provide identity security. This was in the 1980s before anyone really knew what cybersecurity was. Really, what it comes down to is that I like solving problems — and cybersecurity is all about solving problems.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this fascinating career?
I had worked in corporations for my entire career and had decided that after selling my business I would retire. Then I got a call from the Federal Government asking me to help them figure out a cybersecurity breach they’d had. There were big consulting firms working on this problem for a couple of years before I got there, and I was able to go in and help solve this major problem fairly quickly. I brought a different viewpoint — I tend to look at things differently than other people. I originally went into that project thinking it would be a 30- to 60-day consulting job, and ended up being asked to take on the role of CIO for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. I did and was there for four years. I never thought I’d work for the government — it’s much different and moves more slowly than commercial business — but I learned a lot and had to the opportunity to solve a lot of problems. It was really interesting.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I really have been influenced by a number of people throughout my life and career. Of course, I was greatly influenced by my father as I mentioned previously. When I left IBM to go to Novell in the 1980s, Novell was just a small company in Provo, Utah. The CEO, Ray Noorda, had just come from GE. He’d been passed by to be the CEO of GE, so he left the company and went to lead Novell. I met Ray after we’d both delivered presentations at a conference, and he asked me to come work for him. I told him thank you, but I work for IBM — and I thought that was the end of conversation. He invited me to Provo to meet with him, and I found him to be insanely brilliant — his knowledge of business acumen was the best I’d seen, and he was a true visionary. So, I went to work for him, and he was a constant inspiration for me. Ray supported me throughout my time there. His influence has influenced my approach to leading the six companies I’ve served as CEO of since.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?-
INTRUSION has just launched its first solution for the enterprise, Shield™, and it is unlike any cybersecurity solution available today. When I left the government and started consulting, one thing I saw in common everywhere I went was that everyone was using the same solutions and getting the same results — they were all getting breached. I realized this was because they were focused on keeping the cybercriminals out of their networks. We have truly looked at the problem of cybersecurity differently. The reality is there is no safe network. Our new solution works to protect your network from the inside out. The bad guys are already in there — Shield finds them and shuts them down. Where other cybersecurity solutions only alert network managers to found threats, Shield immediately neutralizes them, keeping the bad guys from doing any harm even though they are on your network.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
My advice is to always step back and rethink the problem instead of first just reacting. People in cybersecurity burn out because they are overwhelmed — because you just cannot address all of the threats you face each day. In the Federal Government, we were getting alerts to up to 50,000 threats each day. The problem is not in addressing the alerts, it’s in how to stop having alerts. It’s like medicine — are you addressing the symptom (alerts), or the underlying problem? We’ve been addressing thousands of symptoms and now we need to focus on the problem. This concept really applies to any problem you face.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. The Cybersecurity industry, as it is today, is such an exciting arena. What are the 3 things that most excite you about the Cybersecurity industry? Can you explain?
First, I think a key piece of what we’re doing right now at INTRUSION is helping organizations truly understanding how severe the problem of cyberwarfare is to businesses. The U.S. is predicted to see 6 trillion dollars in losses in 2021 due to cyberattacks. That is twice the size of the GDP of the United Kingdom. In the next year, cybercrime will cause more harm and destruction than COVID. The world can’t handle the size, breadth, and severity of the cybercrime problem. Criminals will continue to get smarter and implement the best technology to keep disrupting U.S. businesses.
Second, we take the approach that every network is infected, and will continue to be infected unless you stop all infections by the millisecond. I believe that almost every new device that is manufactured overseas is already infected and when you add those devices to your network, it’s now infected as well.
Finally, people think being breached means they were attacked and that they know about it. The truth is that most cybercrime lives on a network for one to three years before acting. It’s using AI to research and learn about your customers, your accounts, and what is the most valuable thing in your network it can access in order to make money. A company’s network is under attack by an enemy that is learning about them every day. Most cybercrime today is driven by supercomputers and AI algorithms. They don’t eat lunch, sleep or take breaks — they are just out there finding valuable information and they get more powerful every day. Quantum computing will take cybercrime thousands of steps forward every second. A single cyber quantum computer has more processing power than all computers in existence today. It will be able to learn about your entire network in about three minutes, and that’s something we need to gear up and be prepared for.
Looking ahead to the near future, are there critical threats on the horizon that you think companies need to start preparing for?
We’re seeing these attacks every day — from the recent Twitter hack, to the Universal Health Services breach, to our own elections. It’s clear that we cannot keep cybercriminals out no matter how many locks we have on the door. We have to find a way to stop them from doing harm. And I believe our solution will do exactly that.
In addition, quantum computing will take cybercrime thousands of steps forward every second. A single cyber quantum computer has more processing power than all computers in existence today. It will be able to learn about your entire network in about three minutes, and that’s something we need to gear up and be prepared for.
Do you have a story from your experience about a cybersecurity breach that you helped fix or stop? What were the main takeaways from that story?
Due to the nature of our business, I can’t comment on specific cases. However, I can tell you that in almost every case I’ve been involved in, the breach was not what they had originally thought. The affected organization didn’t realize that cybercriminals had been living on their network for more than a year. Instead, they think they did something to let the criminals in to their network. The solution is to stop focusing only on keeping criminals out and use tools that allow you to monitor in real-time all of the traffic on a network.
What are the main cybersecurity tools that you use on a frequent basis? For the benefit of our readers can you briefly explain what they do?
Our new solution, Shield, analyzes, in real-time, every packet of data on a network. Using AI, the solution seeks out traffic that is acting maliciously and immediately shuts down that malicious traffic. Other solutions only create alerts, and only a few actively stop threats. No other solution actively stops threats as immediately or thoroughly as Shield.
How does someone who doesn’t have a large team deal with this? How would you articulate when a company can suffice with “over the counter” software, and when they need to move to a contract with a cybersecurity agency, or hire their own Chief Information Security Officer?
I believe Shield is the best tool any network manager could use to protect their network. It is low cost and affordable to any business at only 20 dollars per seat, per month. There is no expertise needed, no need to hire people to monitor and manage the solution. For small companies specifically, they need a tool like Shield which uses AI to monitor their traffic — there is no way they could respond to and manage the threats they face each day — nothing else is smart or fast enough to stop the threats.
As you know, breaches or hacks can occur even for those who are best prepared, and no one will be aware of it for a while. Are there 3 or 4 signs that a lay person can see or look for that might indicate that something might be “amiss”?
All you can do is realize there is no way to keep bad guys off of your network. You can buy tools that are network packet monitors to allow you to see traffic moving. They won’t catch all of the threats, but you’ll see requests going out to China and Russia from packets that you didn’t know existed. A network sniffer can look at a network to see that there are breaches. Bad actors call home — frequently — and a firewall won’t pick that up. Monitoring this behavior can make you aware that you have a problem that needs to be addressed, but it can be very impossibly time-consuming without the right tools.
After a company is made aware of a data or security breach, what are the most important things they should do to protect themselves further, as well as protect their customers?
The key is really to stop the breach before it happens. Again, there’s no way a network manager — or even a team of network managers — could possibly respond to all of the threats a typical company faces each day. So, without the right tool, a breach or other attack is inevitable. Of course, with anything, the priorities should be to block the threat immediately to stop it from doing further harm. Second is understanding exactly what has been impacted as part of the attack. Finally, communication and alerting those who need to know, those affected, as quickly as possible is critical.
In my opinion, the CCPA actually makes it harder for us to do our job. It restricts our ability to get access to and use data about what’s going on in the internet. A lot of these measures, which are intended to protect people, actually help criminals more than they help businesses.
What are the most common data security and cybersecurity mistakes you have seen companies make?
There are a couple of big things companies don’t do that they should. First, all data on the network should be backed up and encrypted regularly and consistently — even hourly. Most companies don’t do this. It takes work and time, and it costs money — but you can stop ransomware by encrypting and backing up data on network.
In addition, people are really bad about passwords. In the companies I’ve worked with, I’ve seen that people have very general or easily guessable passwords on critical systems and firewalls. It’s astonishing to me that companies don’t implement the requirement to regularly update passwords. Some pretty general rules for passwords should apply: no kids’ names, no pets’ names, etc. And never use the generic password provided by the device.
Since the COVID19 Pandemic began and companies have become more dispersed, have you seen an uptick in cybersecurity or privacy errors? Can you explain?
The pandemic has caused millions of employees to be sent home to work instead of coming into an office. Very few companies were prepared for this scenario, and how to protect their company and data for outside connections. I saw a recent survey that said 65% of remote workers are not connected to a VPN. And unfortunately, thanks to easy accessibility and the growth of IoT devices, home networks are already infected. Companies’ exposure has gone up dramatically with workers being outside of secure LAN of office. This is probably the biggest threat that is hurting companies, and we’ve seen it in the news — cybercrime is on the rise.
Ok, thank you. Here is the main question of our interview. What are the “5 Things Every Company Needs To Know To Tighten Up Its Approach to Data Privacy and Cybersecurity” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
#1: Back up and encrypt all data on network — regularly, consistently and as often as possible.
#2: Use secure communications — both in and out of the office. Do not let people connect to your network without a secure VPN.
#3: Ensure that people are using quality, frequently changed passwords on EVERYTHING they do. This is the absolute easiest way for criminals to get into your network. Require that passwords are complex.
#4: Recognize and accept that your network is already infected. I would guarantee that after five minutes on any organization’s network, I can show they are already infected.
#5: Finally, find a tool, like Shield, that not only identifies threats on your network, but also immediately blocks them from causing harm.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂 (Think, simple, fast, effective and something everyone can do!)
My biggest piece of advice would be to always step back and re-look at every situation — whether it’s COVID, security, or engaging with your neighbor. People are always in “react” mode — and 99% of the time, we’re reacting to symptoms, not causes. Think about whether there’s a real problem, and if not — let it go. We are in a strange cultural place where we make everything into a problem. If there’s something that needs fixing, find the cause — not the symptoms — and do your best to make it better.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was very inspiring and informative. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this interview!
Formerly of Deutsche Bank, TD Bank, RBC Bank, IBM, Dell/Quest Software, TUCOWS and others, Jason has been in information and data security for over 30 years with customers in virtually every country in the world.
Trusted to deliver — All Things Data Security — he is leading the charge in bringing data privacy as affordable, deployable and realistic solutions that every business owner can take advantage of.