Q&A: Ian Schenkel, Vice President EMEA at Flashpoint
Ian Schenkel recently joined Flashpoint as vice president of Europe, the Middle East & Africa (EMEA) and brings to the company more than 25 years of extensive business management experience, as well as a killer acumen in cybersecurity. He led sales teams at ThreatConnect, Red Lambda, Tenable Network Security, Air Magnet (Fluke Networks) and Sygate (Symantec), and is also a board advisor. Ian sat down to talk to us about his career in security, why he joined Flashpoint—and his love of sailboat racing.
Q: You have extensive experience leading growth strategies at companies that cater to security and intelligence decision-makers in EMEA. What would you say are the biggest needs and challenges these decision-makers currently face?
A: These decision-makers need threat intelligence that satisfies their objectives, but one of their biggest challenges comes from the fact that the threat intelligence market is oversaturated and full of snake oil. With more offerings to choose from than ever before—many of which are marketed in misleading ways—it can be exceedingly difficult for decision-makers to cut through the noise and determine what’s truly going to make a difference for them versus what’s just hype or a passing fad. Even the most tenured experts can easily lose sight of their needs and be wooed by one-stop-wonder offerings, only to realize in the aftermath that they wasted precious resources on something that didn’t even come close to living up to its lofty claims.
While these sorts of challenges are quite common, I must emphasize that they’re not insurmountable. Here are some of the most helpful pieces of advice I’ve received from (and given to) the security and intelligence decision-makers I’ve worked with over the years:
• Clearly define your needs and objectives before seeking out vendors to help satisfy them. Get as granular as possible. If, for example, you’re in the market for a threat intelligence vendor that offers deep & dark web (DDW) coverage, don’t assume every vendor marketed as such will provide the depth and breadth of coverage you need. Only after you’ve determined your intelligence requirements and the DDW sources needed to fulfill those requirements should you even think about evaluating vendors.
• Collaborate with your counterparts at peer organizations. Keep in mind that most of us in this industry are facing or have faced many of the same issues. So by sharing what you’re dealing with, you’re likely to encounter others who’ve been where you are and might even have insight into what you can do to end up where you want to be. A good place to start is with the ISACs; join whichever ISAC aligns best with your industry. There are many other information-sharing groups to consider as well, including ones that are industry-agnostic.
• Beware of snake oil! If something sounds too good to be true, it almost always is.
Q: You’ve spent most of your career in security or intelligence. What is it that you enjoy about working in these industries?
A: I’m passionate about fighting bad guys! But in all seriousness, what I enjoy most about my work is that ultimately, it helps make the world a safer place. It can be unnerving at times to constantly hear about cyber attack after cyber attack, and data breach after data breach. Yet simply knowing that there are—much less getting to work alongside—so many brilliant minds who are dedicated to fighting the good fight and preventing so many more attacks and breaches than the public hears about is comforting and an exceptional privilege.
Something else that’s kept me in these industries, and also that’s drawn me particularly to threat intelligence and to Flashpoint, is my fascination with human ingenuity. Criminals are always figuring out new ways to get around the fence, through the fence, and over the fence. So in most cases the only way to catch them—or at least keep them on the right side of the fence—is to learn to think how they think and see things from their perspective. And regardless of how advanced technology becomes, this is an area in which human expertise will always be crucial.
Q: Why Flashpoint?
A: I’ve been interested in threat intelligence for practically as long as the market has existed. Part of this comes from my fascination with human ingenuity, which I touched on earlier. But perhaps an even larger part has been influenced by my background in business.
The threat intelligence market has been around for quite some time, but it’s grown rapidly in just the last few years, and I’m certain it will continue to do so. Though still relevant now, many traditional cybersecurity services are gradually moving toward obsolescence, which will very likely happen in the foreseeable future because these services won’t be able to outpace criminals forever. And once this happens on a larger scale, what threat intelligence offers—the ability to inform critical decisions based on what criminals are doing and what they’re planning to do—will become even more crucial and in-demand than it is now.
Flashpoint is exceptionally well-positioned to take advantage of this growth because it is already a market leader with a robust customer base, strong partner ecosystem, and global footprint. The company is also a pioneer, as demonstrated by its introduction of business risk intelligence (BRI) to the market just three years ago—not to mention the rapid and widespread adoption of BRI, as well as Flashpoint’s myriad offerings fueled by BRI, that has since ensued.
As I mentioned, threat intelligence is an oversaturated and noisy market in which standing out, gaining market share, and providing something that is truly valuable to customers and lives up to its claims is rare. Flashpoint has consistently excelled in each of these areas, which is largely what attracted me to the company—along with its delightful people and their unmatched expertise and dedication, of course. I couldn’t be more thrilled to have this opportunity to further extend the reach of Flashpoint’s offerings, help accelerate the company’s growth, and build out its go-to-market strategy in the EMEA region.
Q: How does the threat intelligence market in EMEA compare to other regions?
A: The threat intelligence market in EMEA is shaped significantly by the myriad cultures that comprise the region. European buyers in this market are generally more conservative, risk-averse, and more hesitant to try out new methodologies or technologies than their North American counterparts. A big part of this difference stems from the pervasive culture of European sensibility that tends to favor a more considered approach to decision-making.
Much of the Middle East, however, is the exact opposite. Decision-makers in the region tend to have a higher risk tolerance and are generally much more open—and more quickly to adopt—new technologies.
The good news is all of these conditions bode well for Flashpoint. The company’s tried-and-true approach to human-powered intelligence will—and already does—resonate well with the European market. Meanwhile, in the Middle East, Flashpoint’s innovative intelligence platform and emphasis on converged intelligence and risk are perfectly positioned for the region’s preference for cutting-edge technologies and buyers eager to stay ahead of the curve.
Q: How do you think this market will evolve over the next year? Five years?
A: In the short-term, I believe we’ll see a much larger appreciation of threat intelligence and its methodology. The market right now is very focused on educating buyers, many (if not most) of whom are relatively new to threat intelligence and what it can help them achieve. But over the next year, we’ll continue to see these educational efforts give rise to more discerning buyers and a more mature understanding of where threat intelligence fits within a broader security and risk strategy and how it can deliver value across the enterprise.
In the longer term, threat intelligence will become what firewalls are today: a ubiquitous necessity. Every organization will have a threat intelligence function. The conversation will shift from “do we really need threat intelligence?” to “which threat intelligence offerings do we need?”
Q: What aspects of your background or past experience do you think will have the biggest impact on your role at Flashpoint? Why?
A: Having lived, worked, and traveled extensively throughout EMEA during the last 25 years, I can confidently say that I have an intimate and nuanced understanding of the entire market—not just portions of it, but all of it. EMEA is a vast and extremely diverse region, and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to get to know it so well. The same goes for the region’s many outstanding security and intelligence decision-makers with whom I’ve worked over the years.
These experiences have helped me understand what buyers in the region truly need. And in most cases, what they need more than anything is to be educated on what’s possible, what’s available to them, and what it can help them achieve.
In many ways it’s similar to looking up at the night sky. You know that there are so many stars up there because you can see them. But what about the darkness that surrounds the stars? What is it? Buyers want a vendor who can help them understand what the darkness is. They want someone who can broaden their horizons and help them define—and then eventually, help them hit—new benchmarks they hadn’t even known were beneficial or even possible to hit before they met you.
Q: If you could give any advice to other security sales professionals, what would it be?
A: My advice would be to never assume that a customer knows exactly what they want. Rather than treating your relationship with them as purely transactional, take them on a journey to educate and enlighten them—but never patronize them. It should always be a collaborative learning experience where you strive to build trust. And this takes time, so don’t rush. If the customer doesn’t feel they can trust you and hasn’t learned anything useful from you, it’s unlikely you’re going to earn their business.
Q: What are your interests outside of work?
A: My biggest passion outside of work is racing sailboats. I have a 40-foot sailboat that I race regularly along with my incredibly talented and dedicated 11-person crew. My job while we’re racing is to run the boat, manage and support the crew, and come up with the strategy and tactics to pull it all together. To anyone who’s not familiar with sailing, it can easily seem like a leisurely hobby, but in reality it’s a tough and trying sport, both physically and mentally. I love the mixture of brawn and brains it requires. My crew and I were thrilled to win the U.K. national championships last year, and we just defended our title to win it for the second year running!
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