Meet The Women of The Blockchain: Rene McIver, Chief Security Officer of SecureKey Technologies

“Eat healthy and stay active. Yup, cliché, but you really do need to take care of yourself first. When you feel healthy and strong, you…

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“Eat healthy and stay active. Yup, cliché, but you really do need to take care of yourself first. When you feel healthy and strong, you have more energy and feel more confident — a simple recipe for success.”

I had the pleasure of interviewing Rene McIver, Chief Security Officer of SecureKey Technologies. With over 18 years of experience in the fields of information security, privacy, biometrics, identity management and cryptography, Rene is a leader in her field. She holds a Master of Mathematics degree in Combinatorics and Optimization from the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Canada, and focuses on building the security posture of the SecureKey’s ID-services including their upcoming blockchain-based platform, Verified.Me. She works to establish best practices and ensures that product SecureKey develops is compliant with stringent regulatory requirements that promote privacy.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

My backstory begins in a small village in Nova Scotia, Canada. In high school, math and physics were my favourite subjects, but I had it in my head that I wanted to be a child psychologist when I graduated. I stayed local and went to a relatively small school in Halifax that was founded as a women’s college, Mount Saint Vincent University, where I started my psychology major.

I quickly realized the program wasn’t fulfilling my interests and two things happened: I decided to take an elective calculus class at nearby Dalhousie University and I read an article in a magazine about a female cryptographer. I absolutely loved my elective class and the article sealed the deal — I was hooked. I switched to a math major, with a double minor in psychology and physics. As is still the case in my career (which, thankfully is quickly changing!), there weren’t many women pursuing studies in math. Fortunately, this meant smaller classes and more one-on-one opportunities with my professors to truly develop my skills and hone in on my interest in combinatorics and optimization (foundations for cryptography).

After graduating, I got a job for a company researching fingerprint verification. There, I coded cryptographic algorithms and helped develop some really exciting aspects of biometric encryption — which actually set a great precedent for the work I do now as Chief Security Officer for SecureKey Technologies. I eventually gravitated toward information security and worked as Chief Information Security Officer at Route1 which, among other things, worked on launching a secure browser from a USB token.

My experience in biometrics and information security put me in touch with SecureKey’s founder and CEO, Greg Wolfond, and I joined his company, Authenticor Identity Protection Services, which aimed to build a federated biometric identity protection utility. Eventually, I transitioned over to SecureKey as Chief Security Officer.

Can you tell me about the most interesting projects you are working on now?

Our team at SecureKey is currently developing a first-of-its-kind, blockchain-based and consumer-facing digital identity network, called Verified.Me. This platform will be the new way for consumers to privately and securely prove their identities with various online services and always be in control of when, why and with whom their personal information is being shared. It’s a really exciting project at a time when consumers are in great need of holistic data protection and security solutions.

I oversee a number of components in the development of Verified.Me, including information security, privacy and fraud monitoring and response. It’s been extremely interesting working with multiple financial institutions in trying to understand how we can better protect consumers from fraud — and how blockchain can continue to be leveraged in this process. The privacy principles we’ve built into Verified.Me go above and beyond privacy regulation requirements. In fact, Verified.Me even meets every criteria outlined in the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Privacy-Enhanced Identity Federation Building Block project, which outlines the goal of what future digital identity networks could and should look like from a user-privacy perspective.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I struggle to identify a single person because there have been so many amazing people in my life that have given me inspiration, encouragement and unending support. However, in the context of my professional development as a woman in a predominantly male-dominated industry, one woman stands out: Mrs. Kohout, my middle-school English teacher.

One day in eighth grade, she spoke to our class about the importance of having a strong handshake and had us each go up, look her in the eye and shake her hand. It was a little thing, but I never forgot the lesson. I remember it being an incredibly difficult thing to do, and I had to force myself to do it with conviction. My tendency was to shake hands rather meekly, with my eyes cast down — which I think is typical for many girls and women. But I kept doing it until I was comfortable and, eventually, it became empowering. First impressions are your first opportunity to impart your confidence and assertion; whenever I have an opportunity to speak at schools or to young women, I always share my story about Mrs. Kohout.

What are the 5 things that most excite you about blockchain and crypto? Why?

1. Meeting confidentiality and integrity requirements using cryptography and blockchain. SecureKey is developing the foundation of an identity network on the blockchain of Hyperledger Fabric. While cryptocurrencies are not a part of our solution, there is still a strong need for cryptography to protect user’s personal information.

2. Its ability to facilitate the real-time and secure sharing of personal information.

We are working to provide a secure method where people can share their data, from multiple sources, all in real-time, while still maintaining the privacy goal of not exposing the data provider or data consumer to each other — none of which would be possible without blockchain.

3. End-to-end encryption and user privacy.

The enhanced features of Hyperledger Fabric enable an individual to share their data through the network without exposing their data to the network operators. The blockchain holds the cryptographic proofs that the sharing event occurred, but the user’s personal information is encrypted end-to-end (from the data provider to the data consumer) and is never written to the blockchain. This is fundamental to providing privacy for the individual.

4. Protecting data without creating honeypots.

The fact that a user’s personal information is fully protected while transiting through a distributed network, and never stored, also means we’re not creating yet another honeypot of personal information that would inevitably become the target of a cyberattack.

5. Protection from DDoS attacks.

Blockchain has allowed us to develop our distributed network with many nodes, adding increased protections against DDoS attacks on the service as a whole.

What are the things that worry you about blockchain and crypto? Why?

1. Lack of education on blockchain versus cryptocurrency.

We need to separate blockchain from its application in cryptocurrencies. Many people don’t fully understand the use cases of blockchain outside of cryptocurrency and automatically associate one with the other, which is not necessarily true. While our platform is neither a cryptocurrency or an ICO, we certainly use strong cryptography to back our security and privacy claims.

2. Understanding its limits.

Blockchain takes time to fully grasp and it doesn’t solve everything. While it is a great technology, it’s not a cure in itself — there needs to be a problem to fix. User-authorized sharing of identity information both securely and in a manner that surpasses triple-blind privacy goals is really the perfect blockchain use case.

3. Developing proper standards.

All connection points in any networks that use blockchain as a foundation need to be built around universal standards from the beginning. It’s incredibly difficult to make it easy for all the different endpoints in a network to connect in a secure way.

4. Adhering to governance frameworks.

Any participant in a network built upon blockchain has to adhere to a governance framework in order to maintain the integrity of the network itself. It’s imperative that a governance framework be outlined from the beginning, which can take a huge amount of time in planning and collaboration depending on the number of players. Rules are essential to building a successful ecosystem on blockchain, but some players in the space can often neglect this first step. What SecureKey is doing — in building a digital identity ecosystem of service hosts, data providers and data consumers, while maintaining the user’s right to control when, why and with whom their data is shared — has demanded an immense amount of work on governance frameworks.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story?

I truly believe that the dedicated team at SecureKey and I are part of “goodness in the making” in our development of Verified.Me. We are on the cusp of real digital identity, which will depart from today’s broken identity frameworks. There are so many pain points users have to go through just to prove who they are. We’re proud to be building an ecosystem that brings digital identity into the 21st century.

What 3 things would you advise to someone who wanted to emulate your career? Can you share an example for each idea?

1. Do what you love, and if you don’t love what you are doing, don’t be scared to make a change — or be scared and make the change anyway! My move from psychology to math was the best decision I ever made. Kids are forced now to “choose a career path” very early, before they even know much about the vast number of careers out there. It’s okay to start down one path and move to where your passion takes you.

2. Be engaged. I once started a job and was introduced to someone on my first morning who had only been there for about a year. One of the first things he said to me was, “I have 29 years left to retirement.” I was shocked, and immediately thought, “Oh my gosh, I came to the wrong place.” I’m all for retirement planning but being present and engaged is key to future success.

3. Eat healthy and stay active. Yup, cliché, but you really do need to take care of yourself first. When you feel healthy and strong, you have more energy and feel more confident — a simple recipe for success.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this 🙂

Arianna Huffington. She is a great example of a successful businesswoman, and I am completely onboard with her “screen responsibly” initiative.

I recently read her quote that “while all mothers deal with feelings of guilt, working mothers are plagued by guilt on steroids!” That one certainly resonated with me. While my daughters often give me grief about working so much, they realize how much I love what I do. I can only hope it inspires them to work hard on what they are passionate about…and, in the meantime, I need to make sure they screen responsibly!

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