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Cyber Takes Center Stage 

cyber-missionlink-fall 2013

Interview conducted by Rachel Duran

Group connects CEOs with government agencies to solve national security issues.

As an attorney with national security clearance, and working with clients in the national security space, Andrew Lustig began to see a pattern emerging as these companies were working to solve the same problems, and were asking similar questions. It became evident the companies were working in silos. A gap needed to be filled.

And so, even though in theory some of the clients were competitors, attorneys at Cooley LLP asked clients if the firm was to form a CEO group that allowed these peers to operate in a safe, closed door environment to discuss things they needed to solve, would there be an interest? “We received a resounding yes,” says Lustig, a corporate partner in Cooley’s Reston, Va., office, and head of the Mid-Atlantic business and technology group.  “There was nothing that gave middle market companies that type of forum at the C-level.”

MissionLink Inc. was formed three years ago to bring these CEOs together to connect decision makers and build a community of interest for national security focused companies. “Our theory was to get smart people in the room and see what happens,” says Lustig, a founding board member and co-founder of MissionLink. “When you get that caliber of folks in the room and you listen to that dialogue you quickly get a feel for what the real issues are and the trends that are developing. That is what the CEOS love about it. They get insight into not just their own networks but also the solutions they are offering.”

In regard to national security, Lustig says some of these problems such as cyber issues and national security focus issues were becoming much more topical and much more centralized. This includes big data, cyber and mobile security. “And here we are surrounded by the CIA, NSA and DIA, and that infrastructure,” Lustig says. “You get an insider view of how important and how high these priorities are and how behind we are.”

By bringing thought leaders into the room to discuss approaches to those problems, companies could learn what resonates with the government, and what issues they are trying to solve for, and who has the solutions and capabilities they can take to the government. “At a higher level it became an industry focus on how do you connect the private sector with those issues in mind,” Lustig says. “So we have been able to bring a lot of government interest into the program as well.”

Global Corporate Xpansion asked Lustig to further detail MissionLink’s initiatives and the challenges and solutions these CEOs are solving for the government in regard to security issues, which includes applications that crossover to solve the commercial sector’s security needs as well.

GCX: Walk us through MissionLink’s initiatives.

Lustig: Members are nominated to become members of MissionLink. It got to the point where we were flooded with hundreds of companies that wanted to participate so it actually became a selection process where we ended up having to choose CEOs.

Each MissionLink session starts in the fall and ends at the end of spring. It is a monthly recurring session that spans six consecutive sessions. Once CEOs graduate from the program [a graduation ceremony is held] they become alumni and part of the CEO network, which gives them another avenue to continue to interact with each other.

The sessions are a mix of networking topics and/or more strategy focused sessions. There is a panel of experts that leads a discussion of 60 CEOs to discuss where big data is going, as an example. Maybe we will have someone in from the CIA to discuss the top priorities and what security solutions they are looking for. Or in a strategy focused meeting, the discussion would center on how to bring solutions more effectively to the government. What turns off the government so that you end up not getting a sale pushed through?

GCX: What are the leading challenges for these CEOs?

Lustig: A huge segment on the technology side has to do with cyber, which is front and center for pretty much everyone these days. And that is a huge umbrella in terms of what that really covers.

This group is good at sorting out the real issues and real solutions people are looking for versus a lot of the mish-mash that is out in the market, where everybody refers to their solutions as cybersecurity solutions.

For example, if you ask what is an industry trend in terms of cyber; where is the market going? If you talk to insiders they will say everyone approaches it in different ways.

Big data and big data analytics are the big buzzwords and everyone has a definition for what big data really is. How big your data is speaks to what type of solutions you will see.

There are people who want to protect their networks from cyberattacks to begin with. Then there are people that say we need to encrypt our data in a way that once our networks are breached they can’t understand what they see.

And if you talk to other folks they will say, ‘look those are all good solutions and they are helpful, but we are never going to stop cyberattacks, we are never going to figure out a way to prevent people from getting into our networks. So you have to operate from the presumption of breach.’

That is a big mind shift, in a sense. If you are operating on a presumption of breach you are assuming your cyber adversaries are already in your networks.

If you operate that way what do you do with that information? How do you handle the cybersecurity threat at that point? Maybe the solutions need to be about monitoring the network in a way that can identify behavior that is a red flag so you can provision access to data in your network, based on good or bad behavior.

So if you identify, in theory, someone who looks and feels like they should have access to your network but starts accessing information that in their 10 years they have never accessed before, it would send a red flag and say this person needs to be looked at — they need to understand why this person is accessing this information. Or maybe they need to be shut out from this information.

GCX: What other trends are these companies solving?

Lustig: There are a bunch of them but in terms of technology related and cyber-related trends, what goes hand-in-hand with this is all the discussion about big data. What you are seeing is a convergence between cyber and big data because to understand the adversaries and the level of attacks and to be able to understand and analyze your network and the data in your network the right way so you can identify the threats and what is happening, it requires a lot of processing and big data analytic capability.

They can say their solutions have been validated by the federal government. That is a big badge of credibility that opens doors in the commercial sector. That is unusual because it used to be that those two verticals, commercial and federal, didn’t play well together.

Big data and big data analytics are the big buzzwords and everyone has a definition for what big data really is. How big your data is speaks to what type of solutions you will see.  

Another thing we hear about at the federal level is sequestration and what is this doing to the market.

What is interesting is that this is the first time in a long time where the folks providing mission critical services to the federal government, the industries and technologies and capabilities they are serving up, have complete crossover capability into the commercial sector.

So if you take cyber, big data or mobile security, those are concerns that are front and center for the intelligence community. And they love to see those capabilities; there are huge budgets dedicated to solve for that. But those exact problems and solutions are relevant to health care and insurance and other commercial verticals that have nothing to do with federal.

Because you have that crossover capability a lot of companies are managing against the perceived lessening of dollars in the federal government and beginning strategies to go into the commercial sectors. They can say their solutions have been validated by the federal government. That is a big badge of credibility that opens doors in the commercial sector. That is unusual because it used to be that those two verticals, commercial and federal, didn’t play well together.

GCX: What’s next for MissionLink?

Lustig: As a group we will continue to work on acting as a way to connect CEOs to each other but also continue to bridge the private sector with active federal sector programs. This is to ensure that folks within the federal government understand the solutions in their backyard in regard to the tough problems they are trying to solve, and making sure the private sector understands, on a timely and accurate basis, exactly what agencies and the federal government are looking for in terms of the problems they are trying to solve.

When the CEO hears this he knows where to spend resources, and move in that direction because that is clearly a path that will resonate in that agency.

For complete details on MissionLink, its founders and partners, visit www.missionlinkdc.org. Visit Cooley LP at www.cooley.com.

Illustration by Stuart Miles at Free Digital Photos.net



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About the author: Rachel Duran

Rachel Duran is the editor in chief for Global Corporate Xpansion. Contact her at rduran@latitude3.com.

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