Jeffrey J. Engle is president of Conquest Cyber, a combat veteran and Purple Heart recipient who served in U.S. Army Special Operations.
War is no longer fought only on a battlefield. It happens everywhere, at any moment in the devices we carry in our back pockets and wear on our wrists.
Cybersecurity was unheard of until 50 years ago—years before personal computers became commonplace. Now, with technology everywhere you look, cybersecurity is crucial to our daily lives and the function of our country’s critical infrastructure.
Yet we as a country are perilously close to the brink of catastrophic failure when it comes to maintaining the integrity of that critical infrastructure—which includes our energy grid, telecommunications platforms, medical facilities and financial institutions. With so much of our world connected to the internet, including the entities operating various parts of our infrastructure, our nation’s vulnerability to cyberattacks has greatly increased. Meanwhile, our government’s responses to previous cyberattacks have been painfully slow and far too modest to adequately address a threat that grows by the day.
Before coming to work in the cybersecurity field, I spent nine years as a leader in the U.S. military’s elite special operations community, called upon for some of our nation’s most sensitive, most dangerous work. Accomplishing our mission goals often required an unconventional approach, forcing us to unlearn much of what we had been taught in our previous military training.
In the army, soldiers learn how to do things in a traditional, time-tested way. They obey orders even if they don’t always understand the reasoning behind them. In special ops, though, we’re encouraged to reject old ways of thinking and operate by instinct if necessary to accomplish a mission. It may sound like I’m endorsing a cavalier attitude, but I’m not. In special operations, you’re surrounded by like-minded, highly skilled people who are laser-focused on the task at hand. In some of the most high-pressure situations you can possibly imagine, you learn to depend on each other.
With devastating cyberattacks disrupting even healthcare systems and city power grids, we need to understand that confronting big problems requires us to reject conventional wisdom and think in creative ways. In my own cybersecurity work, I’ve adapted this special operations mindset into a set of five values, which I think are applicable to any organization, large or small.
Have the DRIVE to protect information from falling into the wrong hands. From transportation to financial services, our country’s infrastructure is dependent on technology. Whether a company is big or small, all are targets of motivated and well-funded hackers who spend their days and nights working to infiltrate our systems. Our adversaries are tireless, so we must be tireless as well.
Never settle for less than EXCELLENCE. Each aspect of our country’s infrastructure is reliant on technology in some way, and even the smallest lapse can cause the system to fall. This requires around-the-clock vigilance to ensure your organization is always able to identify threats and respond to potential issues as they happen.
Expect LOYALTY from your team. You all need to understand the importance of the work you’re doing and be willing to push hard toward a shared goal that affects important and integral parts of your business.
The partnership hinges on TEAMWORK. Effectiveness rises out of mutual respect for each team member’s talents and contributions and the confidence that they’ll do their job to the best of their ability. And if a team member falls short of a goal, they need to be accountable to each other for that as well.
And always demonstrate ADAPTABILITY. There is no room for complacency in this constantly evolving field. Meeting governmental compliance standards should be the bare minimum when it comes to cybersecurity. After all, when enemies are at work trying to best your security protections, your team must be that much better.
Achieving this high level of effectiveness may be understandably difficult for smaller businesses that don’t have the resources to employ a dedicated team or even large companies that are struggling to find the qualified talent needed to protect their systems.
But make no mistake: There may not be missiles in the air or bombs going off, but this fight is happening in our homes and in our workplaces. There are hackers around the globe who are working to infiltrate our systems to steal our data and disable our infrastructure.
It isn’t too late to arm your company with the protection it needs. Start thinking now about what resources you need to accomplish your cybersecurity goals and keep your organization’s most important information secure.
Forbes Technology Council is an invitation-only community for world-class CIOs, CTOs and technology executives. Do I qualify?