Peter Benson and the focus on the big picture

Technology for the sake of technology is limited, says Trend Micro's senior security architect

Trend Micro’s senior security architect Peter Benson started his career in a technical space as a radio technician before evolving into teaching and systems thinking, and systems management. He says he “almost fell” into security while doing project management: “I worked out that security was cool to my way of thinking and mindset, and have been privileged to have been involved and active in security ever since,” he says. “I also worked out that there is just so much opportunity out there in the information security space, and scope for solutions companies and changing the mindset of society, and liked the concept of helping to grow security awareness and economic protection in New Zealand.”

Growing that awareness will be one of Benson’s core areas of focus this year, along with developing the Trend Micro brand in New Zealand.

“Trend Micro has been known as an 'anti-virus' company, which is and has been true, however the range of security services and offerings have now taken Trend Micro to be one of the biggest thought leaders and solutions providers in the information security arena,” he says.

“We need to continue to reinforce and build the mind share as to the leading security company that we are. Security and the threat landscape are rapidly evolving fields, and I want to ensure that we are providing whatever is needed to the government, commercial and public sectors to help ensure NZ remains a great and safe place to do business,” adds Benson.

“Many businesses still need to be educated about their security vulnerabilities, as well as the new wave of sophisticated threats such as targeted attacks and advanced persistent threats, or APTs.”

He says IT is an “enabler to societal development and change”.

“I both love and hate the concept that the technology enables such a difference in the way we do things, and that often the outcomes of the technology can be so unpredictable,” he says.

In his daily work to help businesses, Benson divides his time between a wide range of chores, including providing guidance and technical information to customers, providing guidance and advice to sales teams, providing customer and channel support for product deployment and any security or technical questions, as well as providing technical enablement to the local market. He also works with customers for “proof of concepts”, as well as providing technical and security advocacy.

“One of the reasons I joined Trend Micro is also one of the things I love about the job: Trend is a technical company, and has put a lot of thought and vision into where the security environment is heading. As a result, I have access to products and tools that are both ahead of the market, and leading the market. I have worked for “me too” companies in the past, and very much like the notion that we are providing both thought leadership, and leading the charge with real world solutions geared at the evolving threat landscape,” he says. “I also get a kick out of providing solutions to NZ businesses that provide real protection; I know this sounds trite, but I get a lot of pleasure out of helping make NZ a safer place to do business.”

So is New Zealand becoming a safer place to do business? It’s not an easy question to answer and Benson agrees that the global financial crisis took its toll on businesses that had to look at price before security when it came to decide where the IT budget was spent. Nevertheless, he says that business is starting to pick up again, in spite of seeing a lot of companies maintaining a “go for the lowest cost option” mentality. “It also still feels like there is a level of conservatism in the IT sector. We are undergoing a revolution rather than an evolution of business due to technology at present, and I think the IT industry needs to both adapt and become a lot more flexible in how businesses do business. The downside of revolution, unfortunately, is that the outcome is not necessarily defined, and there is a lot more risk in the process. I get the impression that there is a lot of “holding back”, either due to misunderstandings as to what can be done, or the risks have not been fully addressed or qualified as to how do we do business going forward,” he adds. “While there are a number of smaller entrepreneurial businesses taking advantage of what can be done (Mega, etc), we are certainly seeing a number of areas where I think we are going backwards compared to the US and emerging Asian countries.”

Benson sees himself as a “technologist wanting to build business and change as a result of technology, not in spite of, or driven by the technology”. He says technology is only a part of the overall ecosystem. “You should focus on people, process, technology, and look at the big picture. The relationship of society to technology and vice versa is necessary to understand in order to be able to provide real outcomes that make sense from a business and societal perspective. Technology for its own sake is self limiting,” he says. Benson adds that, in relation to its particular field, that of information security, “continual development, thinking, and personal development are critical to success”, due to the constantly evolving nature of the business.

Q+A

Where do you live now and where did you grow up and have lived before?

I originally grew up in Wanganui, and worked my way up to Auckland via Palmerston North, Hamilton, Auckland, Paraparamu, and Auckland again. As jobs and career evolved, I migrated up to the bigger cities as the jobs got bigger.

What are you currently reading?

My most recent reading is the Frankenstein series by Dean Koontz, a great sense of irony, and really interesting humour. I used to read a lot of sci-fi, but my recent reading list has been a range of security books, including information security law, and application security testing.

When you were little, what did you think you would be when you grew up?

Research chemist or physicist, it’s a long story…

Do you have any favourite sports?

Yeah, I really enjoy drag racing and power lifting.  I don’t get a chance to do or watch much of either these days. I’ve always been a petrolhead to an extent, and over the years have owned a range of interesting cars and motorbikes.  My last cool toy in this space was custom built chopper designed along the theme of The Scream by Edvard Munch, painted back in 1893, see http://www.flickr.com/photos/skrik69/4471337479/in/set-72157623599437345/

What's your favourite gadget?

I have a relatively cheap 3D Printer, which is really cool. I “dabble” in CAD/CAM design, and love the ability to convert my thoughts and designs quickly into 3D products that I can touch and play with.

And your favourite website?

I don’t actually have one; I tend to be a “grazer” on the web, and just look for what I want, when I need it. I suppose Google is still my main web site for finding stuff that I’m interested in.

What's your drink of choice?

Mai-Tai or Mojito. I went to Hawaii a few years back and got hooked on the Mai-Tai. Recently I’ve gotten into the Mojitos, they’re really great on hot days.

What do you think has been the single most important advance in technology?

This is a tough one to answer. It’s arguable that it all started with the printing press, and went further with the multi-processor, with the internet revolutionising things even further. Obviously, these are some time ago. I’m not actually convinced that we have seen the single most important advance in technology; but this is an evolution that is occurring so fast, ask me again in a few years.

The most interesting technological change we are seeing at the moment is the revolution associated with the post-PC world, and this mobility is taking us into interesting areas.

If you weren't in technology, what would you be doing?.

I’ve always been in technology, just not always in information technology, and am not convinced that I could be in a field where technology was not a part of it. If I wasn’t working directly in IT Security, I would be working in custom engineering, focussing on blending art and technology to develop new and cool stuff.

How do you keep the work/leisure balance?

Actually fairly badly.I have a custom Harley that gets worked on when I get the chance, and ridden a lot less than I would prefer, and I also make sure I get to the gym as much as possible. In the spare time that I have remaining, I tend to play with tech, do custom motorcycle wheel designing (CAD based), and do a bit of “bespoke production”, designing and building technology parts using CAD/CAM/3D printing technologies.

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