IT Life: Always Alert

Lookout’s Gert-Jan Schenk tells us why he loves Tesla, his electric toothbrush, and how cybercriminals help keep him on his toes

Tell us about your current role, how long have you been in IT and what are your areas of expertise?

By the numbers, I’ve been in the IT industry for more than 25 years, with expertise in networking, IP and security. But when I think back at the pace of growth and the change that I’ve seen, it feels as though we’ve spanned centuries of growth in just those 25 years.

My passion is working for companies with a true start-up mentality, which is what I’m doing today. When you have a team focused on the common goal of growth, you get a fantastic unity. As such, it’s the culture and the team that really makes the difference. When I started my career I was purely focused on technology, today I put a lot more of my energies into people.

Gert-Jan_lookoutDuring my career I’ve worked for a range of companies. I’ve helped to turn around and improve large companies, as well as building out businesses almost from scratch. Most recently, I was President of Intel EMEA (formerly McAfee).

What motivates you right now?

It’s almost a cliche to say that cybercriminals’ attacks are getting increasingly sophisticated—this has always been the case. However, what’s interesting about threats and cybercriminal activity right now is that the attack surface is widening, with more devices like mobile, wearables and even our cars serving as possible targets.

It’s this challenge and the importance of the solution that constantly motivates me. How can we change the economics of cyber attacks so that it’s harder and harder for the bad guys to get away with this? Historically, detection has been relatively easy for the bad guy to evade. But that’s all changing. We can apply new data-driven technologies to prevent crime and catch criminals. No time has been more compelling and important, as we enter a new era of security where mobile devices are the center of gravity for work and personal life.

What has been your favourite project so far?

What I’ve really enjoyed at Lookout has been the ability to create new opportunities and solutions, rather than working within old or existing models.

Think about it — our customer base has an entirely new challenge as they look to secure a mobile fleet that’s accessing data anywhere, that’s connected to the cloud and that’s entirely mobile. We are working with these customers to show them how best to enable mobility strategies – showing how security should be viewed as an opportunity rather than an obstacle.

What technologies were you involved with ten years ago?

Twenty years ago I was focused on building out the technology to power the growth of the internet – the routing, the carrier infrastructure. At the time, security wasn’t particularly high on the industry’s agenda. The focus was on providing internet access to as many people as possible.

Years later, the conversation is much more about flexibility and connectivity, but with security built in at every layer.

using smartphone mobile phoneWhat do you expect to be using in ten years’ time?

We will continue to see the mobile phone rise in prominence as the main interface into our personal and business lives, with the lines blurred in between.

As wearables and more and more devices become connected, I still expect the mobile phone to be the central point of control in the next ten years. Let’s just hope we see better battery optimisation in this time!

Who is your tech hero and who is your tech villain?

My tech hero is without doubt Elon Musk. With Tesla, he has shown how technology can disrupt and reinvent even the most traditional industry – automotive.

In such as short space of time he has managed to launch and establish a premium brand in a very competitive market. At the same time, he has managed to build a new path by bringing electric vehicles into the mainstream. He is also pushing the industry forward – you can see this with Tesla’s willingness to work with the security industry to tackle challenges associated with connecting cars to the internet.

My tech villain actually comes from a movie – Valentine from Kingsmen. He’s a billionaire who announces a giveaway of smart SIM cards that give free cellular and internet access. He uses this access to control people’s minds.

While it’s quite far-fetched, it is the nightmare scenario for the industry. It’s also a valuable reminder that there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

What’s your favourite device ever made and what do you use the most?

Besides my mobile phone, which is a given, I’d say my electric toothbrush. (I hope my dentist is reading this!).

What’s the greatest challenge for an IT company/department today?

Breaches have become the norm for companies. The security status quo in most enterprises clearly does not work. I believe that one of the main challenges at play here is the blurred lines between “employee” and “consumer.” With both work and personal life on the same device, it presents the enterprise with a serious headache. Employees expect all business functions to run on personal devices, including corporate email, internet services, and both on-premises and cloud apps. At the same time, mobile consumerisation is raising expectations on software to build quality and design.

It means that enterprises must re-define their approach to mobility. Previously the focus was solely on device management. Now, a complicated conversation about security needs to take place. There needs to be a real awareness of the power of smartphones in the workplace. At the same time, employers must uphold virtues of personal privacy protection.

Apart from your own, which company do you admire the most and why?

It has to be Tesla. In particular the way the company is continually diversifying and innovating. Of course they’ve completely re-imagined and re-built the modern car, but it’s also the other elements that go into their approach which impress me. They’ve created Tesla Energy, an efficient, clean, affordable source of energy for their cars. They’ve completely overhauled the way cars deal with security challenges, making over the air patches status quo in their cars and creating a great bug bounty program. It’s truly inspiring to see what Tesla has achieved in such a short space of time.

What did you want to be when you were a child?

A car mechanic, I’ve always had a great interest in cars.

It’s actually pretty ironic because the skills that are needed for modern mechanics are perhaps more aligned with what I know and do today. Tesla’s Model S is a computer on wheels. With internet connectivity and over-the-air patching, you really need to be a technologist to excel in the automotive industry. So maybe I’ve found my second career here!

Gert-Jan Schenk, Vice President of EMEA at Lookout

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