Software Development
Cybersecurity / Workplace culture

Ron Gula wants to make cybersecurity personal. Enter: data care

The former Tenable CEO and investor thinks changing the industry's name can help raise awareness, and make it more welcoming. It has implications for personal responsibility, and the workforce.

Former Tenable CEO Ron Gula. (Courtesy photo)
As industries grow, they tend to reach more people. That can bring moments where it’s necessary to consider how they must change for a more general audience.

Deep knowledge and proximity to a problem help pioneers create new fields, and develop the common plain on which it operates. As their tools are used more widely, there need to be ways to welcome more on the wagon.

Ron Gula sees such a moment for cybersecurity. As a cofounder and former CEO of Columbia-based Tenable, Gula was among the Maryland-based talent of National Security Agency specialists-turned-entrepreneurs who developed the tools and techniques to protect networks and data from attackers, as well as the standards the industry follows. Now an investor alongside his wife and fellow former Tenable exec Cyndi Gula with Gula Tech Adventures, he’s seeing an evolution. With the economy powered by digital tools and cyber attacks becoming an economy of their own, securing systems from attacks has gone from the province of the IT team to the entire company. With more attention, cybersecurity jobs are proliferating across startups and all types of corporations.

This requires a more welcoming and approachable attitude that will get all involved, and Gula wants to see a change to an important signifier that sets the tone: the name cybersecurity.

In its place, he and Cyndi have been advocating for a new term. Meet “data care.”

“Cybersecurity as a name doesn’t inspire responsibility in average people,” Gula said. Rather, he said, it creates the idea that “cyber is someone else’s job.” Data care, he said, makes it personal, evoking for a person what they are doing on their own device or account to take care of the data they have.

The term data care makes responsibility personal, evoking for a person what they are doing on their own device or account to take care of the data they have.

It gets at a hurdle many people who are new to cybersecurity have encountered. All fields have their own vocabulary. But given its roots in secretive military branches and that the work takes place inside networks and command lines, the cybersecurity glossary can pose a particularly daunting learning curve.

Gula said that’s had the effect of creating a perception of the general public that it’s the province of specialists. This is particularly concerning at a time when employees across teams are needed to assist with the basic “hygiene” that helps to protect systems. Given the attacks that have taken place inside government systems and key infrastructure like oil pipelines and hospitals, Gula thinks it’s an all-hands-on-deck moment. That means making it personal for people.

“It makes it a lot easier to understand what the world of cybersecurity is all about,” Gula said. Terms like ‘deep packet inspection’ and ‘zero-trust’ don’t really communicate what folks are doing. “It’s so hard to relate that back to, ‘I’m the owner of a pizza shop. What do I need to do to protect my data and protect my customers,” he said.

Along with increased investments in tools and protections, there needs to be a push to raise awareness.

“The country’s on that journey and it’s fine, but along the way we’ve got to make sure the next generation of kids and veterans is part of this, and make sure people at the board level are thinking about these issues,” he said.

It also has implications for growing the workforce. The field doesn’t necessarily need more specialists, but rather more people who understand the basics. Increasing general exposure to cybersecurity and making it more inviting can help to grow a field that consistently has a gap between the open jobs and qualified folks available to fill them, and where the numbers of BIPOC and women professionals are still disproportionate. For students, careers like doctors and lawyers are immediately recognizable. Gula wants to cybersecurity to be similar, and data care can be less intimidating

He sees precedent. When he was growing up, the medical field was the province of doctors who held the knowledge and made decisions based on opaque standards they learned in medical school. But a switch to the term healthcare helped to open up more awareness of how people have a role in their own well-being.

To spread it, Gula is talking about data care as much as possible when he gives keynotes and meets with leaders in the field. It was at the center of an initial $1 million round of grant funding that Gula Tech’s foundation launched, and one recipient included data care in a Magic: The Gathering-style game centered on demystifying cyber. It was included in a workbook from the National Cryptological Museum for students.

“We’re leading with data care,” Gula said.

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