It is also inspiring to see all the hard work and sacrifice of the medical teams and other social professions, working long hours at the moment to fight the pandemic. Not for nothing did thousands of people applaud health workers all over the world and recognize their work. In my opinion, long overdue. I have the hope that this pandemic can be a turning point to treat these jobs better in the future, after realizing how important they are for the well-being of the society. The same goes for scientists, who hopefully now will get more respect and trust again.
As a part of my series about the things we can do to remain hopeful and support each other during anxious times, I had the pleasure of interviewing Candid Wùest.
Candid is the VP of Cyber Protection Research at Acronis, the Swiss- Singaporean cyber protection company, where he researches on new threat trends and comprehensive protection methods. Previously he worked for more than sixteen years as the tech lead for Symantec’s global security response team. Wüest has published a book, various whitepapers and has been featured as a security expert in top-tier media outlets. He is a frequent speaker at security-related conferences and an advisor for the Swiss federal government on cyber risks.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
I was born in Switzerland when the first Star Wars movie came out. I guess you could say I’m a classical computer geek. My two older brothers and I always had an interest in mathematics and electronics when we grew up. Equipped with a lot of curiosity I always wanted to find out how things work. Luckily for me, I could learn a lot from my brothers and my parents supported me wherever they could. Of course, most of the learning was done by countless hours of trial and error, till it finally functioned. I taught myself the programing language Basic, even though I did not understand any of the English keywords. You could argue, that it was kind of foreseeable that I would go and do a masters in computer since at the ETH, but I also did a minor in psychology, as the human mind fascinated me as well. I then worked for IBM Research for a while, before I spent the last 16 years as the technical lead for Symantec’s global security response lab. In that role I was analyzing all the different cyber threats and attacks around the globe, trying to come up with new protection ideas. I researched a broad spectrum of threats, from attacks against smart TVs at home, to nation state orchestrated sabotage attacks in the Middle East. Having seen the devastation that a cyber attack can cause in an organization, was always heartbreaking. In some cases, mid-sized companies had to close down and people lost their jobs, all just because of a wrong mouse click. The consumer side was often not better off, with people losing all their precious data to a ransomware encryption or a lot of their money to an online banking fraud. Very often these attacks start with a simple spoofed email telling some fake story, the so-called social engineering part, which triggers all the right psychological buttons to convince the user to do something, they shouldn’t be doing. Since this year I moved to Acronis, a Swiss- Singaporean cyber protection company, to help them expand their cyber protection mission to fully protect the digital presence of people and corporations across all the different needs. It might seem that the fight against cyber criminals is futile, but it is not, and I am passionate about trying to proof this.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I think the book “The Cuckoo’s Egg” by Cliff Stoll from 1989 definitely had an impact on me. It’s a fascinating story about a sysadmin tracking down a computer hacker over multiple month. It demonstrates impressively the complexity of the IT world and that you have to think outside the box. This encouraged me even more to learn about IT security, although at that time the digital world was far from what we experience today. One of the more recent books that left an impression with me is “Countdown to Zero Day” by Kim Zetter. It’s a research story on the cyber sabotage attack named Stuxnet, which disrupted Uranium enrichment facilities in Iran ten years ago. This was the first widely discussed case of a cyber-attack having physical implications in the real world. It also sparked a wave of discussions around cyber war and its consequences. One of the main reasons why this book resonates with me is, because my research team was deeply involved in the discovery and analysis of that attack and helped with the background research for the book.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
I think it is natural and understandable to feel uneasy in such uncertain times, but if you take a moment and reflect what is going on, there are definitely some things that create a glimmer of hope.
- There is an increase in solidarity visible. Ok, admittedly not when looking at people hording toilet paper, but when looking at smaller communities and how they are looking out for each other. I have seen neighborhood groups pairing young people with elderly people to do grocery shopping for them. Many of my friends, me included, have helped countless people configure their Internet connection at home or explained them how to use video conferences with their family. It’s heartwarming and inspiring to see so many people giving their time to help other people for free. Moments like these bring back my faith in humanity.
- In such frightening times you have to be realistic, but never lose your optimism. History has taught us that generally after large events, things will come back even stronger. Just look at regions of volcanic activity, where nature is blooming again today. Stay patient, the situation will change again for the better. Follow the local best practices and don’t take any unnecessary risks. Looking at Asia ease some of their lockdown measures is for example a promising sign.
- It is also inspiring to see all the hard work and sacrifice of the medical teams and other social professions, working long hours at the moment to fight the pandemic. Not for nothing did thousands of people applaud health workers all over the world and recognize their work. In my opinion, long overdue. I have the hope that this pandemic can be a turning point to treat these jobs better in the future, after realizing how important they are for the well-being of the society. The same goes for scientists, who hopefully now will get more respect and trust again.
- If you are in a region under lockdown and you’re not supposed to leave the house, it can be a good opportunity to spend more time with your family or loved ones. This can even work over distance. I think I never had that many video calls with friends as I did last month. Just to check in with them and socialize a bit. Make something good out of the situation. It is all about perspective and realizing what is important in your life. You can also take time to do projects that you always wanted to do. Read a book, study some of the many free online classes or pick up artwork. In today’s fast paced world, we often forget to take time for ourselves and our closest friends, till it is too late. What did Ferris Bueller say in the movie: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
- New opportunities will grow from this event. As hard as it seems, extreme events often spark radical rethinking and innovation, which can generate fantastic new ideas. I’m curious to see what will come out of this crisis and I’m not just talking about new opportunities with work-from-home jobs, VR vacations, better online shopping offers or new community circles, but something completely new and disruptive.
From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Show other people which are anxious that they are not alone. Check in with them, even a chat message can make a difference. Give them a chance to talk about what is happening, what they think about and how they feel. Talking about difficult situations with others can help processing them. But be rational and fact check your own thoughts along the way.
Breaking down the situation in smaller, more manageable chunks, can often help make the over all situation less overwhelming. Help others to ask themselves the right questions, so that they can walk that path step by step.
Let positive things distract you. Watch a move or bake a cake. Share positive news and feedback with others. Keeping a positive attitude is important. Focusing only on negative things can bring you in a downward spiral, which will only drag you and others down. Break these cycles, by being a positive example to others.
Stay healthy and fit. Try to exercise, eat healthy, get enough sleep and drink enough water. Having a fixed routine and structure around exercise can also help getting a feeling of control and empowerment, which can balance the feeling of uncertainty and powerlessness.
Concentrate on your breathing at least once a day. You can do this while taking a walk in the nature or at home on the sofa. You can also try meditation or yoga if you are up for it. Being calm helps you make well-thought-out decisions and will also help others around you do stay calm too.
What are the best resources you would suggest to a person who is feeling anxious?
If you are struggling with everything that is going on right now there are good online resources that you can consult. In general, many countries have great anxiety self-help resources available, some even offer online support groups and stress management workshops. For example, if you are in the USA, visit the ADAA (anxiety and depression association of America), they even have tips and videos specifically around the COVID-19 situation.
In addition, try to read more trusted non-hyped real news sources, instead of following the hysteria on social media. This will help keep you calm and concentrated.
In order to relax your mind, there are many mobile apps available than can help you with meditation, like for example Calm, Headspace or Buddhify.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
This is a tough question to answer, as there are so many inspiring quotes out there. As a teenager I always liked the following: “Don’t dream your life, live your dream!” In my opinion this combines a few important points, like that it is in your hands to change your future. If you do nothing, it will stay a dream. It also shows that there are many possibilities for your future, if you open your mind to think without boundaries. However, it also highlights that you should not get stuck in the past dreaming about missed opportunities. Live in the present and take conscious actions to control your voyage.
More recently, some friends and I came up with a play of words for my name, which I like too. It is as follows: “I CAN and I DID”. Take it as the next logical step of the first quote. Being a bit older now, I can say that I definitely did a few things in my life to set the course for the future, to get closer to my dreams. All I had to do is realize and believe in me that I can do it and then I just did it.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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. 🙂
I’m a strong believer of being respectful to others and happy with yourself. Seeing a movement around this, would definitely make me even happier. I recently had the pleasure of meeting a Bhutanese cultural advocate. It was very interesting to learn that Bhutan has an official Gross National Happiness index. They have realized that being happy is very important for your health. Having a positive attitude can change the world around you. A little smile is sometimes all it takes to change someone’s day for the better. So how about as a start, we try to start each day with a smile. If someone has a great idea how to achieve more respect and happiness in the world, please let me know.
What is the best way our readers can follow you online?
You can either follow me on Twitter, my handle is @MyLaocoon, based on the Greek mythology, or you can read my articles on the Acronis Blog (https://acronis.com/en-us/blog/).