Mike Convertino, head of technology for Seattle-based F5’s security products. (F5 Photo)
Mike Convertino was not surprised by Russia’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. election through its weaponization of social media, allowing it to sow fear, uncertainty and doubt among voters. And frankly, you would hope that he wouldn’t be.
Convertino is the head of technology for Seattle-based F5 ‘s security products and a retired Air Force Colonel and former commander of a large information warfare group. For years he worked in cyber security in the intelligence community, with access to all of the military’s knowledge on foreign nations and others attacking U.S. companies. The assault on Facebook and Twitter left him saying: “I warned you so.”
Convertino and fellow security experts have even turned weaponized fear, uncertainty and doubt into the “FUD” acronym and are fighting to stop this sort of assault.
“With all of the attacks that are happening, information security has fundamentally changed. It’s about actively protecting the company’s information and therefore its reputation,” he said. That means using machine learning to detect “sentiment” about a business, entity or issue― in short, monitoring what the internet is saying about someone or something.“I recommend CISOs (chief information security officers) talk to their executives and try and get that into the defensive complex of a company.”
Convertino said that just as there are cyber attacks on machines in which attackers hold the devices for ransom, these days one’s reputation can be held hostage as well.
If this all sounds a little terrifying, Convertino has some advice.
“Knowledge and planning can allow you to be less afraid and more ready to react and protect yourself,” he said. “Definitely get educated and know about what is going on, and you’ll be less afraid and you’ll be able to react appropriately.”
Convertino’s CV includes former senior director of global network security for Microsoft, as well as past CISO and director of the security ops center for the security product startup Crowdstrike. He was initially hired as F5’s first CISO before moving to his current position. He shares some of his insights into security on the site Dark Reading .
“We CISOs live in a world of risk― it’s always up to our hips,” Convertino said. “Even the best of us are subject to hack. We can be humbled at any moment.”
We caught up with Convertino for this WorkingGeek, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.
Current location:Seattle, WA
Computer types:I like Dells with Kali linux, and Macs because they are useful platforms for what I do and are more secure than most.
Mobile devices:I use Apple iOS devices because I know and trust the security team there.
Favorite apps, cloud services and software tools:Apache Spark is so fun to play with. In fact, I just love Apache products in general. Another of my faves is using Kubernetes on Amazon Web Services. You can accomplish an incredible amount in a really short period of time with these tools.
Mike Convertino’s workspace at F5, where he wards off cyberattacks. “It’s a competition between an actual human who is challenging the security to get at information and your job is to detect them and out them,” he said. “It’s like a game of hide and seek.” (F5 Photo)
Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you?I like a fairly spartan space that is quiet…one without distractions. When I get in the groove creating, the worst thing is to have a lot of racket and noise around.
Your best advice for managing everyday work and life?Write it down, prioritize it based on your teams’ priorities and get it done!
Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work?I’m a fairly heavy user of LinkedIn with about 5,000 contacts. My Facebook account is closed and for family only, but I don’t look at it much and am thinking of shutting it down after the Cambridge Analytica incident.Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox? 988 Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? 35
Mike Convertino enjoying a little down time. (Photo courtesy of Mike Convertino)
How do you run meetings?I believe meetings are necessary but expensive, and therefore should be short and very focused. I insist that everyone read material in advance and be prepared to jump in right away. Given this, I think that short, 30-minute meetings are best with a one or two item agenda.
Everyday work uniform?Collared shirt, khaki pants or custom-dyed jeans, casual vest or workout jacket for everyday and sport coat for client meetings.
How do you make time for family?We plan little escapes on the weekends, have dinner together every night and keep work away from private times.
Best stress reliever? How do you unplug?Well, I like to do projects around the house, workout with family and go out to dinner and concerts/shows and I’m huge baseball fan and go to tons of games. To unplug, I immerse myself in old tech: Music played on a super high-end turntable, tube amps and studio monitor speakers with 15-inch woofers that can move air.
What are you listening to?I like old metal bands like Krokus, Dokken and Slaughter and modern alternative like Florence and the Machine.
Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters?Bloomberg News, The Hacker News, Daily Beast, Wired, Huffington Post
Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)?Ian Fleming’s “Casino Royale”
Night owl or early riser?Definitely night owl. I get about 4-6 hours.
Where do you get your best ideas?Reading sci-fi. It unleashes my creative side and makes me dream big.
Whose work style would you want to learn more about or emulate?Definitely Elon Musk. I’d love to work directly with him for just a few weeks if he’d sort of narrate his thoughts as he went through his day. I think I could really learn a lot from him.