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New beginnings

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Since I decided to leave my security role at Red Hat last October 2016, and finally exiting a year ago today in December I’ve been somewhat busy. I actually planned to be less busy and to just do part time consulting and writing for a couple of years but those plans went out the window at haste.

In January I started a consulting company AuditSec Services with Chloe my wife to do virtual CISO roles, writing and speaking and to collect software royalties and fees in a tax efficient manner on my terms. E.g not to be working 100+ hour weeks that had become the norm at Red Hat, and to see more of the kids and genuinely enjoy more family time.

Well. AuditSec went nuclear. By the end of March I’d already been in six countries doing consulting, public speaking and providing security guidance to companies in four verticals at C level. I’d been on stage in countries as diverse as Holland and Slovenia, Germany and Russia and I was more busy than I had ever been.

If you’re going to do your homework, get paid for doing it

Then a stint on contract at Gartner helping them define their security practice as a Director and as their acting CTO for their global security practice whilst also fulfilling my role as a Director of the Cloud Security Alliance now that I wasn’t handcuffed by the dumbest employment contract ever at Red Hat.

Then life changed somewhat. Prior to meeting Gartner I met with a company in Birmingham, Falanx Group, a security and intelligence house that had been through a rebirth and were in a period of transition. Exploring how to be an MSSP of sorts, with their own SOC and the usual blend of security services they were intriguing in many ways although I had some reservations that needed to be put to bed. At Gartner I worked with Secureworks, Tata, Wipro, BT, BAe, and products such as Splunk, Carbon Black, Vectra and CrowdStrike on seven figure projects with FTSE50 companies RFP processes and the entire period was spent doing the most dynamic and intelligent market research and strengths and weakness analysis of the MSSP market that anyone could ever do. And to be paid for doing it.

A somewhat unique experience, to be sat wearing the senior Gartner hat at the table. Actual research I could use to shape what I would be doing for the next stage of life. Research not just into capabilities but weaknesses in core service delivery and also commercial weaknesses that blindside almost every MSSP SOC offering other than Secureworks. Add into that the fact that the whole service proposition is plagued by the fact that margin maintenance for providers has never been harder as CrowdStrike and Carbon Black’s investors both realise that they have to have a service play which then throws contractual agreements with Verizon / BT / BAe / Wipro / Tata (add MSSP player of your choice here) into a position where pre IPO or pre exit there isn’t the appetite to maintain product roadmap in search of value added services – that compete with their partners.

SOC providers are servicing customers with 2015’s enterprise needs

Be under no illusion every SOC provider is going to spend 2018 trying to sign customers to 3-4 year deals ahead of time to maintain profitability. If they don’t then Splunk (whose share price has underperformed dramatically since launch in a bull market for governance and compliance) and others are going to see revenues continue to drop whilst differentiators in the marketplace bring services to the fore. Elastic’s scheduled IPO is going to be amazing, Josh Bressers my number two at Red Hat and host of the Open Source Security Podcast, (who left Red Hat with me is now heading up security there after I turned down the role and suggested they go hire him) is now at Elastic. Even SecureWorks whose share performance has failed to please analysts has begun to rethink how it re-examines it’s customer relationship away from the backward steps it took whilst part of Dell/EMC.

Amazon’s launch of their second generation monitoring capabilities at ReInvent this week means that the intelligent design of solutions that meet the needs of the DevSecOps generation is close. The smart money is not on traditional SOC, it’s how you bridge the gap, the gap I’ve described in presentations on stage as way back as CSA EMEA Congress in Spain last year whilst still at Red Hat. You can find my slides from that deck online (click here for a PDF copy of the deck) and also repeated in a talk I gave in my other role as roaming techhead at BrightTalk (go be my judge and listen for yourself clicking here to register and listen to our last session).

Now at the time in Madrid in October 2016, there were a lot of very qualified suited and booted folk in a packed auditorium, a room populated by C level decision makers from across Europe. I know talking to some afterwards they felt that I’d punched them violently by describing the problem and their failures to use technology and people to solve it. In fact during delivery of the deck I could hear the audience discussing it with almost audible winces. Never a good sign when you’re only armed with a laser pointer. However, the team from Google who were in the audience went away and used my deck to re-address how they talk security across their business. In Slovenia in April this year at another event I was keynoting with Red Hat and the Slovenian Government they came back to me and thanked me on stage for creating them a “pivot” point in their monitoring and release capabilities. I knew I was starting to be heard by audiences and being influential in decision making about rethinking process, event, monitoring and compliance even if folk felt wounded in the room each time I delivered the deck.

But then when the biggest bank in Spain who had been in the audience for my talk also adopted the same mindset, that was the gamechanger. I knew then that change was necessary and traditional SOC and SIEM solutions just service latent legacy needs. Even Red Hat were getting it badly wrong and only thinking about OpenSCAP and CVE compliance as their take on security which was one of the reasons both Josh and I left Red Hat’s leadership team.

MSSPs and SOC providers haven’t evolved fast enough, or can’t without adding more technology (and latency and security risk) to address the pressures of where companies development mindsets and pressures are forcing them to operate. This is especially critical around a multi cloud estate or where organisations are starting to use mobile development teams to garner new revenue opportunities. Flexibility of approach and a genuine need to talk the same language as your customer is at the core of a provider mentality and sadly the industry is about margins and the provisioning of hardware from competing manufacturers to deliver their concept of a value add. The customer doesn’t really stand a chance and no matter the RFI/RFP process usually buys 60% of what they need and 40% of what they’re given contractually and then have to mitigate against. In whose eyes is that adoptive agile security for todays business needs ?

If you read my regular articles on TheStack (my security articles in 2017 are the most shared real estate on TheStack), especially where we touch on process failures then the need becomes very real. And until now I’ve not had the tools to match my doctrine. Until now.

An overlooked fact

The SOC/SIEM marketplace is segmented and populated in a mixed hotch potch of stacks of technology from pre IPO companies under the cosh and unable to determine roadmaps and pricing, harnessed by market leaders unable to influence that roadmap or pricing but reliant on core capability. When you don’t know what your customer wants and you turn up with an Ferrari (which won’t solve their problems) and your customer has a problem you don’t understand and only has Skoda money then can you shift your business to the left and take a haircut enough to deliver capability ? Not if you’re reliant on the current model of stacked products that only give you 65% of what you need with your large customers.

Do Enterprises have the money to deploy what they think a SOC is ?

The SOC and SIEM market is one that is overpriced, misunderstood and badly designed even if you are an enterprise throwing £3m a year at it, what you get is more a bet than a technology partnership. Sadly where the SIEM industry is at is delivering a chocolate box approach to security event reporting, intermediate barely useful threat reporting without actually asking the industry what it wants. We see it year after year at RSA and if you listen to any of the podcasts I recorded from the floor of the Moscone at RSA in San Francisco the penny will start to drop.

Anybody remember The Likely Lads ?

During the period March to August 2017 John Blamire the founder of Falanx, a lovely guy who hails from the North East of Britain like me, messaged me almost daily. He talked to me at length about coming in to help them through a transition and to provide a much needed shot of inspiration into the company, below the radar. John knew what I had done at SmoothWall and Zimbra and the work I’ve done with Red Hat and the podcasts and at CISO level in the UK, EMEA and US. There was a job to do at Falanx and the role wasn’t going to be either easy or without significant challenge but that would require inside knowledge at the highest level of the MSSP market. The significant research I’d been able to do at Gartner was going to provide us a core level of understanding towards feature development and reporting needs in a UK market dominated by “GDPR experts” who aren’t listening to the wider needs of businesses.

The acquisition of AuditSec and next steps

In September 2017 AuditSec Services was acquired by Falanx Group for stock and I became Group CTO. The below the radar transformation and rebuilding of Falanx was to begin. Now the hard work would begin. The important piece of that paragraph is the line “for stock”, not cash, not cash and stock, stock. It meant skin in the game.

Commercially I have been successful enough to be solvent and comfortable in life and I’d need to be if I was going to take a fifty percent plus haircut on salary with a small company like Falanx unable to pay me a solitary employment benefit compared to say Gartner. No shiny contributory pension, no car allowance, no family health benefits (I have a wife and two children 6 and 4) only the promise of long hours, indigestion and long trips up the M5 from Bath all hours of the day and night. I don’t need to be at Falanx, I’m choosing to be there as long as I’m heard and people follow my lead to drive revenue and product. Six months of John wearing me down to join made me realise that for the first time since SmoothWall in 2001 I had an opportunity to make a commercial gain of a significant nature, even with a smaller holding. But matched to an aligned promise to come in and be heard and have a business that I could shape. So for FLX shareholders thinking that expenses or expenditure is an incentive, not with Mike Reid on watch. My bank manager must think I’m slightly bonkers, thankfully my wife is supportive and sees the bigger picture.

Since then business process re-engineering has been my focus and looking at every aspect of the business and the creation of a suite of tools and technologies that we are about to go to the market with, that nobody has seen coming. I am very proud of what we’ve been doing under radio silence, aided by partners and longterm friends providing input from my Open Source Rolodex.

This is personal – taking the principal steps needed to drive demand and growth

In 2001 I launched SmoothWall commercially. I took a back bedroom company to a reseller market in over a dozen countries and turned it into a company with products, services and revenue that didn’t just compete but became the standard.

What we have been doing very quietly the last few months at Falanx is based on the same principles, the same ethos but with better developers and more capabilities to bring to the fore. Only what we’ve had to do at Falanx is to do it silently under the radar without market awareness, without analyst focus and to build something that has demand and meets my security criteria.

What else can I tell you ? – Not a lot, but you know I wouldn’t be involved if this wasn’t about to make people sit up. The established firewall and filtering market had to listen to me when I stood up SmoothWall. The MSSP market – it’s time for a shake up and this time it’s using qualified research looking at where the weaknesses in the most expensive platforms can’t play well.

I sit and read the Falanx investor boards once every couple of weeks and laugh nervously. Everyones an expert. Well newsflash. I’ve been here ten busy weeks and I’ve not seen daylight. Not one of these posters clocked my arrival. The fact the security company I created on thin air just got bought out in an MBO backed by Tenzing afer becoming the defacto standard.  Too funny, I’d have really thought someone would have said “theres this guy from Gartner who just landed, who sort of has a track record in making revenue and marketshare – why did he get in at the bottom ? Why did he choose Falanx all of a sudden, what does he know that we don’t ??”. Nothing. Radio silence, not one blink. It seems that folk are too busy speculating about stuff to spend time doing due diligence which is hilarious for me as a shareholder getting in at a stupidly low market valuation.

NOBODY has a clue what we’ve been doing, what I’ve been driving, and this is going to be if nothing else a positive shot in the arm and to make people sit up fast.

I don’t put my name on things that fail, and theres a reason I’ve been very very quiet. I haven’t even appeared on the Falanx website out of choice although that will change any day soon.

However folks, when we go live this is going to be done properly with a service that people consume because it’s world class. I know one model, make longterm growth revenue. Following the SAME model as I created at SmoothWall at a price break where the competition don’t have an offering to compete in a market that has a need for better security capability. Cloud is here, enterprise workloads are migrating, security compliance is harder and if you go read the articles I’ve written in the press over the years (see the press section in the site menu) and read between the lines then you are armed to make a sensible guess about whats about to land.

Watch this space, subscribe to my podcasts along with the tens of thousands of security folk, analysts and journalists who choose to trust what I have had to say for the last five years to the intelligent masses. If the CIO of US.Gov listens in maybe you should too.

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Author:Dick

Evangelist, photographer, journalist, Husband and Dad in no particular order

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