Welcome to Defender Spotlight! In this monthly blog series, we interview cybersecurity defenders of all varieties about their experience working in security operations. We’ll inquire about their favorite tools, and ask advice on security topics, trends, and other know-how.
Computers have always been a central part of Mike Downey’s life. His love for them and building things to help others led him into the field of security operations, where he's currently a security analyst at a prominent financial institution.
Here, he takes us on a brief journey from childhood aspirations to becoming a defender, all while giving back to the community.
Tell us about yourself, your history working in security operations and what you are working on now.
Hi, I’m Mike Downey, a security analyst at a major financial institution. Like many, computers and electronics have been a part of my life from an early age. My progression into infosec stems from my inability to sit in one place for too long. Early on, I was positive that I just wanted to work on computers. I wanted to build custom rigs and help others with their problems.
After doing that for a few years, I realized that it really wasn’t the spot for me. I started college for a networking degree and pursued the Cisco certification route. I was able to develop a solid networking background, but it was at this point that I began learning security concepts and realized that I didn’t really want to be a network engineer. I’ve been working in security operations for only a few years now, but it seems that I’m constantly learning and excited to see what each day brings.
I’m still figuring out where exactly my focus is going to be in the next few years, but that’s exciting to me. There are multiple areas of expertise, and there’s never a lack of things to learn. At this moment, malware analysis is intriguing to me and is the focus of the majority of my time.
Can you tell us about a moment in your career where you were proud to be working as a defender?
A few years back I lived in a small town with a lack of computer clubs or interest groups. We started a little group that gathered ideas from the community and located professionals to give presentations on topics of interests. Our idea was to see what multiple people were interested in learning, and gather resources for training and discussions.
Since many of us were in IT related fields, one of our first meetings was an introduction to online privacy. There were only a handful of attendees, but the ones who joined were involved in discussions around issues that affect their daily lives. You could really notice these seemingly advanced topics start to click for people, and there was a greater understanding around the threats posed to their personal security and the steps they can take. This was an amazing feeling as a defender. We’ve raised awareness and educated a group of people to not be victims.
What are some of the trends in the security industry that you find encouraging?
I think the most encouraging thing is the willingness to accept those new to the community and provide resources for education. From my experience, many professionals in this field are very helpful to those seeking guidance. I believe one of the best things we can do as a community is to be willing to teach and spend time with those seeking to learn.
What advice would you give to someone getting started in security?
Get involved. It can be very difficult to land your first job due to lack of experience, but you can make up for that with examples of projects you’ve worked on and the things you’ve done. Set up a lab, contribute to open source projects, join/create a local user group in your town, and write articles. Your passion and willingness to learn will go a long way.
What are some of the best industry events to attend and why?
In my opinion, the smaller events are the most beneficial. My favorite events to attend are B-Sides and DerbyCon. You can always catch conference videos online, but nothing compares to hanging out in the halls with professionals in your field. Regardless, I feel that the most important thing is to simply attend any event you can afford to make it to. If there are no events around your area, create your own event or user group.
Glad to see another community advocate looking to guide and help others in the field!
If you enjoyed this interview with Mike, you can check out other inspirational thoughts from fellow defenders: