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The Movers & Shakers Interview series by Frost & Sullivan highlights dynamic companies and leaders in the corporate world today. These organizations and individuals are recognized for achieving milestones such as launching breakthrough technology, executing key strategic acquisitions, or implementing a revolutionary vision for the future of their industries. In this edition, the Frost & Sullivan Asia-Pacific Cyber Security research team speaks to Mr. Tim McElwee, President and Chairman of Proficio, Inc.

Tim McElwee, President and Chairman, Proficio, Inc.

Tim McElwee is a senior executive with over 25 years of experience in building, operating, and growing information technology companies. Founder of Proficio, a global Managed Security Service Provider (MSSP), he oversees all strategy and operation functions including security, sales, marketing, and finance. Prior to Proficio, Tim held multiple executive positions in various organizations. These include a position as CEO of Imperito Networks as well as leadership roles at Phoenix Technologies (Nasdaq PTEC) and Ramp Networks (acquired by Nokia). Tim has co-authored multiple patents and has a proven track record of launching new companies, heading highly successful global organizations, and creating shareholder value.

1. Can you share more about yourself and how you entered the cyber security industry in Asia-Pacific?

Much of my experience has been helping companies develop into significant global businesses. I first became involved with cyber security about 20 years ago when Ramp Networks launched one of the first security appliances for small offices and completed a successful IPO. The company was later acquired by Nokia. After Ramp, I was CEO of Imperito where we became one of the first companies to offer a cloud-based VPN service.

I have spent a significant amount of time in Asia. Prior to founding Proficio, I helped security and networking companies such as Proofpoint, Rapid7, and Infoblox establish their Asia-Pacific sales and business operations.

As you know, relationships are very important in Asia and I am lucky to have made many friends – a number of which are helping us today. Hence, it was a natural choice for Proficio to invest in the region and establish our second Security Operations Center in Singapore.

2. What prompted you to start a new company that focuses on managed security services? Was there an issue in the industry that you identified and were aspiring to solve?

When we started Proficio, many organizations were faced with the challenge on how to best protect their enterprises from cyber threats and meet compliance requirements. One approach was to buy and operate SIEM software.  However, for most enterprises, with exception of the largest ones, operating a SIEM was a daunting task involving significant upfront cost and requiring a team of experts to manage, update, and monitor the system. It was clear to us that many organizations would prefer to use this type of software delivered as a service and supported by experts. At that time, some of the Managed Security Service Providers (MSSPs) relied on outdated proprietary software and either provided their clients with inaccurate alerts or insufficient security intelligence.

We founded Proficio to fill the gap in the market by providing medium to large-sized organizations with the same advanced threat detection and response capabilities that were then largely available to Fortune 100 enterprises alone.

3. Tell us more about the brand Proficio and its logo.

The word Proficio derives from the Latin word “progress”, and it inspires us to constantly bring security to the next level against the adversaries. The logo has an evolving circle that is represented by 4 bloodlines – which stands for scalability, reliability, flexibility, and excellence. I envision these to be a very important foundation of our company. Akin to a 4-legged stool, if one of the legs is missing, the company will not be a stable platform to support our customers.

4. Recently Proficio has raised $12 million in venture capital, and it was reported that it will be used to expand the company’s presence globally, including in Asia-Pacific. Can you share more on this?

Our plan is to significantly grow our team across the various regions and expand our geographical footprint globally.

Three years ago, we appointed Alex Tok as the Managing Director for the Asia-Pacific region and since then we have established a very strong technical team in our Singapore Security Operations Center (SOC). We also plan to significantly increase headcount as that will enable us to provide both regional and global support to customers. In 2017, our Singapore headquarters will become an innovation hub, enabling us to define new approaches to threat detection and response. Our Asia-Pacific technical team will focus on understanding threats originating in Asia and identify vulnerabilities that require a specific regional response.

In 2017, we will also expand our operations in Australia and Northern Asia. Our plan is to build account and technical teams throughout the region and form strategic partnerships with business and government organizations. As per data residency requirements, we will archive security logs on the premises of a specific customer or within the country.

5. In our primary interviews with MSSPs, one key challenge highlighted involves staff retention and hiring security analysts for their security operations centers. What will be your strategy in countering this challenge?

Hiring great people and retaining them is one of our primary objectives and we have been very successful in achieving this goal.

Our vision is to be a market leader known for innovation and trusted by our customers. We have found that technical employees are attracted to these values.

While it is easy for any company to claim that they invest in their employees, at Proficio this is a high priority for management and we measure our progress through metrics such as employee feedback, productivity, and turnover. Proficio provides employees with the right training, support, and tools to effectively do their job. We encourage an open environment, welcome new ideas, and reward excellence.

We create career paths for our technical employees that allow them to grow in their roles and experience new challenges. For example, a new employee can be an SOC Analyst 1, 2 or 3, work in Security Engineering, be a Solutions Architect, or work in Technical Marketing.

Proficio is focused on recruiting recent university graduates and providing internships  for promising students. We also proactively hire employees who have served in the military and people with disabilities.

6. We understand that one of the verticals you intend to focus on is healthcare. Can you share your thoughts on the healthcare sector, especially for Asia-Pacific?

Healthcare is one vertical we have been very successful in the United States and we have already gained some traction in Asia. It represents an industry that stores and processes a high volume of personal data that is attractive to hackers. We find that there is similar need to protect confidential data in many industries such as financial services, government, and technology.

Proficio has built a large amount of content that maps to various industries and can be used to accurately identify attacks and provide visibility of an organization’s security position. Our approach to help any organization is by detecting threats and providing mechanisms to respond in near real-time to protect against a damaging breach. For example, if a high-fidelity attack is identified, we can automatically block the source of the attack before it compromises a company’s security.

7.  The Managed Security Services market in Asia-Pacific is very competitive now with several telco and non-telco based providers. What will be the key differentiator for Proficio’s security services and what will be your strategy to win?

Our customers tell us that we stand out from the competition because of our ability to accurately detect threats and provide actionable alerts and guidance. We achieve this through a combination of powerful analytics platforms combined with investigations by expert security analysts to uncover threats and hunt for APTs. We also customize our content and rules specifically for each customer so our service is modeled to their security policies, asset priorities, and IT infrastructure.

We were one of the first MSSPs to offer automated response solutions and today we offer our customers a range of mechanisms to block attacks and orchestrate workflow.

We have also been a leader in managing next-generation endpoint security products. There has been an increased focus on protecting endpoints and MSSPs must play a significant role is managing these solutions.

Our strategy is to continue to do an excellent job in both detection and response regardless of whether a customer uses a traditional data center, a cloud-based infrastructure, or a hybrid model.

We also believe that a winning strategy requires a highly customer-centric approach. Our customers today view us as an extension of their IT security teams and we will continue to invest in systems, processes, and people that ensure customer success.

8. Can you share a major case in Asia-Pacific in which Proficio helped a client to overcome a cyber-attack using your security services?

Recently, we identified a case of an Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) at one of our customers, a well-known US chip company. After further analysis, it was deemed to have affected other customers in the semiconductor industry, including one of our Singaporean clients.

The attack was fairly sophisticated and involved malware that had not been documented by other security companies or researchers. The first indication of this attack was suspicious communication attempts from a server to external IP addresses hosting dubious and fake domains. The regularity and duration of this traffic suggested that it was not generated by an end-user. One of our security analysts received this alert and quickly started an investigation. He found that an advanced malware had infected some of the customer’s hosts. This was a serious incident as the malware had a number of advanced cloaking capabilities including the ability to detect if it was in an automated sandbox and obscure its real role from security software.

This is an example of the value offered by powerful threat detection techniques backed by expert investigations and shows how discovery of a new attack method can quickly be applied to protect other customers.

9. Any final comments you would like to share?

The managed security business is evolving from a traditional model that focuses on the perimeter and managing security devices to a holistic one. MSSPs today must be able to detect advanced attacks, address threats from the endpoint to the cloud, and proactively prevent cybercriminals from damaging their customers’ business. We will continue to provide our customers with unparalleled value as measured by the quality of our service and simplicity of our model.

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