Raluca Saceanu: ‘The threat landscape is evolving at a dangerous pace’

5 Jan 2021

Raluca Saceanu. Image: Michael O'Sullivan /OSM Photo

Smarttech247’s Raluca Saceanu discusses the changing cybersecurity landscape, skills shortages, and the ‘image problem’ in the infosec industry.

Raluca Saceanu is the general manager of Smarttech247, an enterprise cybersecurity organisation headquartered in Cork.

Saceanu is responsible for the company’s global security business including strategy, portfolio and operations. She is originally from Austria and holds a master’s in strategic management from the University of Innsbruck.

‘Men outnumber women in cybersecurity, which means that there is a wide pool of untapped talent as we face an increasingly sophisticated level of threat from our adversaries’

Describe your role and what you do.

As general manager at Smarttech247 I am responsible for the company’s strategic vision. I oversee the daily operations of the global business, develop and implement strategies in order to achieve our company goals, and ensure that we enable our enterprise clients to increase their cybersecurity resilience.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

For the past year, we have been in full growth and scaling mode, so setting clear objectives and organising strategic priorities for the long term has been key.

Time management is crucial for my role. Usually on Sunday evening I review the days ahead in order to manage priorities and be prepared for the upcoming week. It helps me start my week with a good mindset.

My calendar is my number-one tool to keep everything organised and productive. Calendar events are set days, weeks and even months in advance and time is optimised according to priorities, meetings and routine activities. Of course, in our industry, being adaptable is extremely important so priorities may change and, when they do, I need to be ready.

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

Cybersecurity is an industry that will always continue to grow in complexity and scale. The more data we create and consume, and the more we diversify our infrastructure, the larger the attack surface grows. As we reach a state of hyperconnectivity in an increasingly complex digital infrastructure, the threat landscape evolves at a dangerous pace, too. The other part of the problem is that cybercriminals are just getting better at what they do.

At Smarttech247, we are investing in threat intelligence and continuous research and development capabilities that allow us keep up with the pace of this added complexity and develop cybersecurity solutions that address these challenges head on. We have recently hired more people in our R&D department and we are working on new products.

Another substantial problem the cybersecurity industry is facing is a skills shortage. Staffing for cybersecurity has become a crisis, for both private and public organisations.

To tackle this challenge, we are collaborating closely with top universities in Ireland, Romania and Poland to ensure that we can help the next generation of computer science graduates find an interest in cybersecurity careers. We have also created apprenticeship programmes that train entry-level employees so they can start their careers strong.

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

We are living in unprecedented times and our global economy has changed. The pandemic has altered the business landscape and the threat landscape has changed, too. We have seen a massive increase in ransomware attacks that are causing havoc worldwide.

Businesses are faced with bigger, larger and more devastating cyber threats – a situation which, unfortunately, has been challenging to tackle in-house. Organisations need more specialised skills and technologies to deal with the complexity and vast amount of threats.

Additionally, the regulatory landscape is constantly evolving. The existing and upcoming cybersecurity, data protection and privacy legislations drive cybersecurity priorities and investments, which brings growth opportunities for us.

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

I have always had a keen interest in business, economics and particularly management. I pursued a master’s degree in business administration and strategic management, which has led me to various business roles so far.

Working in cybersecurity has been interesting and exciting from the very beginning, and knowing that we play an important role in keeping so many organisations secure is the fuel that drives me and my teams.

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

Learning from mistakes is an important part of my philosophy. I think it is important to make mistakes early on in whatever the process is, so that we can keep perfecting our work.

At Smarttech247, the margin for error is very low. That’s why we have a very open and collaborative approach to reviewing mistakes, analysing root causes and learning from them, so that they don’t reoccur.

How do you get the best out of your team?

I am fortunate to work with a wonderful group of people who are talented, mature and dedicated. In the first quarter of last year, when the world switched to a remote working model due to the pandemic, we all faced the same questions: how is this going to work effectively, how are we going to keep our teams motivated and how will it affect us?

Surprisingly, the new challenges brought us even closer together. It was important for me to keep the same engagement and motivation going, even remotely.

Communication, setting clear objectives and employee engagement are paramount – regardless of whether teams are remote or not. I have an open-door policy, even if that door is now virtual. This plays an important role in discussing ideas, tackling challenges together and being proactive.

Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector?

The lack of skills mentioned above is complicated by another problem: lack of diversity, particularly gender diversity. Men outnumber women in cybersecurity, which means that the industry has a wide pool of untapped talent as we face an increasingly sophisticated level of threat from our adversaries.

The reasons for this diversity problem vary, but one fundamental issue is that cybersecurity has an image problem. I think this is slowly changing and more companies as well as universities are tackling the issue.

Talking about it is not enough. We wanted to address this diversity problem and that’s why we have recently created a cybersecurity academy for women who want to develop skills in cybertech and infosec.

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

I have been inspired by multiple individuals over the years and I always try to learn something from people, whether these are family members, friends, colleagues, business partners or people I meet outside my daily routine.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

One of my favourite books of all time is The Art of War by Sun Tzu – this is a book that I reread every few years, because every time I read it I feel that I discover a new perspective.

I also recommend Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari, which is a great, thought-provoking book. I also enjoyed reading The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli; the author managed to create a world where physics and philosophy meet in this book, which makes it a must read! At the moment, I am reading Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman.

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

I’m old school when it comes to tools and resources. My calendar, Excel and Microsoft Teams are my key tools. I also have a few apps for fitness and meditation that are key to maintaining a healthy work-life balance!

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