‘The way in which technology is secured must be reimagined’

9 Feb 2021

Brendan Hannigan. Image: Sonrai Security

Sonrai Security’s Brendan Hannigan discusses security for the ‘new world’ of tech, the shift to the cloud, and the power of Post-it notes.

Brendan Hannigan is an experienced tech leader who is originally from Ireland but is now based in New York. In 2011, his security intelligence software company Q1 Labs was acquired by IBM and he was appointed as head of the company’s security division.

In 2017, Hannigan went on to co-found Sonrai Security, a cloud security start-up that is looking to automatically uncover identity and data risks. Last October, the company raised $20m in funding.

‘The old ways of perimeters, firewalls and people-dominated security operations centres fail in the new world’

Describe your role and what you do.

I am CEO and co-founder of Sonrai Security, which delivers a cloud security platform focused on identity and data security. I also serve as an entrepreneur partner with venture firm Polaris Partners and serve on the board of directors of Flashpoint and Tausight – both of which are cybersecurity companies.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

Prioritisation for me begins with a grand vision for our business. An overarching multi-year and current-year strategy flows from the big vision. After that, priorities for our year, quarter and even each day are easily revealed.

Each day there may be hundreds of things you would like to get done, but only 10 things you can possibly get done. Strategy and vision inform what should be at the top of the list. Don’t sweat the things that don’t make it to the top.

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?

The way in which technology value is created – how we build software – has changed. We have gone from monolithic software to micro-services software, waterfall development to agile, IT control to DevOps innovation, people-controlled infrastructure to infrastructure as code, and finally data centres to ephemeral clouds.

However, the way in which technology is secured has not been reimagined – but it must be. The old ways of perimeters, firewalls and people-dominated security operations centres fail in the new world. Sonrai Security has developed a security service for the new world – one which is optimised for the cloud, focused on identity and data, and that delivers automation for cloud and security teams. Our goal is to deliver a level of security, governance and automation far superior to anything possible in the old data centre world.

What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?

One opportunity we are capitalising on is that of one of our customers – a huge Fortune 100 energy company, World Fuel Services – set out three years ago to close all of its 30-plus data centres as part of its digital transformation. Today they have only two data centres left, with the rest of their infrastructure spread across AWS and Azure, and with Sonrai central to securing and enabling this digital transformation.

What set you on the road to where you are now?

In 2016, I read an article about the adoption of AWS Lambda functions and also about the explosive adoption of container technologies. It struck me that in a world dominated by these and similar technologies, the old-world data centre and enterprise network security approaches were useless.

From there, I decided there needed to be a new and different approach.

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

Micromanaging. Get into details with very strategic or very broken items but, for the most part, trust your team to get the job done and to reach agreed-upon goals.

How do you get the best out of your team?

I think it’s critical to have a clear strategy and clear objectives. It’s also important to have trust, honesty and, above all, accountability.

Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector?

Yes. In the immediate term, we have adopted a proactive approach to hiring to ensure a diverse talent pool of candidates for open positions.

In the longer term, we need more diverse participation in the fields of maths and computer science. We must encourage and actively support all young people to pursue this amazing discipline. We benefit as an industry and as an organisation from diverse points of view.

Did you ever have a mentor or someone who was pivotal in your career?

I certainly have. I began my career as a technologist building products and leading product teams. However, a great mentor of mine had decades of experience leading very successful sales teams and his insights about the art, science and psychology of selling remains instrumental in my approach to sales today.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

Blind Man’s Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage by Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew. This true story is a page-turner, full of technology innovations and tales of bravery, and it has eerie parallels to the cyberwar being waged right now.

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

Post-it notes.

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