Inside Illumio: Paul Dant
Inside Illumio is a monthly series that highlights the exceptional individuals behind Illumio’s world-class products. Each post will peek behind the scenes to spotlight a member of our team. Come get to know us a little better and learn more about what makes Illumio’s culture so unique.
This month, meet Paul Dant, Senior Director of Cybersecurity Strategy & Research. Learn about how his history as a child hacker led to a career in cybersecurity.
Tell us about yourself. What do you do at Illumio?
I joined Illumio just over a year ago as a Principal Systems Engineer and I’ve spent that time going deep into our product to understand how it works, how our customers use it, and how our prospects evaluate solutions like Illumio. Today, I’m leading Illumio’s newly launching Cybersecurity Strategy and Research Team, which is an incredibly natural fit given my background as a researcher and hacker.
Computers and their intersection with security have always been fascinating to me. I’ve identified as a hacker since I was nine years old, well before I even knew the term ‘hacker’. After teaching myself to write code in BASIC, I published a shareware video game and sold it on 5.25” floppy disks to my fourth-grade classmates. The (very weak) copy protection I employed was cracked by a parent which, naively, I hadn’t anticipated. My effort at copy protection was more about mimicking the behavior of my favorite commercial games versus actual, functional copy protection.
Realizing that, with the right knowledge, I can subvert the intended behavior of software was an epiphany that completely transformed my way of thinking. I promptly retired from video game development, got into software reversing, and entered the warez scene, cracking software and pirating it via bulletin board systems. This was my hacker genesis; from there, my continued exploits would lead to a career helping organizations around the world understand risk using offensive tactics targeting their most critical assets. Targeting anything from hospitals to tent-pole film sets to nuclear energy facilities, I’ve successfully planned and carried out attacks, all driven by my earlier years of hacking for fun and profit.
What made you interested in working at Illumio?
What brought me to Illumio is the focus on stopping exactly what allowed many of my prior attacks to succeed: unauthorized lateral movement across largely flat networks. If we had started from the beginning with Illumio’s Zero Trust Segmentation, we’d see far fewer successful attacks and much lower overall risk of ransomware devastation.
What does a day in the life of Paul look like? What are you working on that excites you?
I spend a lot of time talking to customers and prospects to bring a level of clarity in how attacks succeed amidst the obfuscation and deep FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) we see within this industry. I also spend time analyzing customer data to identify interesting metrics and trends, particularly around ransomware risk and mitigation with Illumio. I get excited by the prospect of helping customers establish a clear understanding of risk, prioritized steps to address risk, and meaningful, demonstrative reduction of risk, all with Illumio.
What is the most important thing you’ve learned at Illumio so far?
Even as a kid, the concept of lateral movement--the ability for a bad actor to strategically move from machine to machine--was intuitively vital to achieving my attack objectives. Illumio is the long-time-coming solution that both validates and effectively counters my decades of successful attack techniques, legal and otherwise. Illumio delivers results!
What are you passionate about outside of your career?
To be perfectly honest, my hobby is my work. ‘Hacker’ is still a big part of my identity and I love researching security topics, learning more, and better understanding how technology and our security challenges affect the world. Outside of that, I’m into computer music production, multimedia, and I have an awesome collection of vinyl records.
Which Illumio core value resonates most with you and why?
Onwards Together. My goal as an Illumineer is to bring people together within the cybersecurity field, from practitioners to the sales organization, and demystify hacking. We all win when we are rowing in the same direction.
What do you want people to know about working at Illumio?
At Illumio, you have a rare opportunity in today’s cybersecurity industry to actually solve customer security challenges and see the impact of your work.
Given my time in the industry, it’s incredibly special to work for a forward-thinking CEO-CTO team that are also the co-founders of the organization. They bring a different level of energy, of passion for the work, of commitment to the cause, that you often don’t find working outside of the co-founder team.
Interested in joining the team? Check out our career openings.