On April 1st, EMC Corporation, the Global 500 information technology giant, acquired NetWitness, a network security company specializing in real-time network forensics and threat monitoring. Along with it, they acquired veteran information security figure and NetWitness’s Chief Security Officer, Edward “Eddie” Schwartz, who also happened to be one of its original founders.
But not two months after Eddie and the NetWitness team began transitioning NetWitness into EMC security branch RSA, the latter suffered a major data breach as the result of what they term an “Advanced Persistent Threat”—an attack by an unnamed nation-state targeting RSA’s core intellectual property, the SecurID infrastructure. SecurID is a two-factor authentication product deployed at the largest government agencies and private companies around the world. It utilizes a physical token along with a PIN as an authentication method for enterprise applications. A data breach of this magnitude would of course necessitate major work internally to address security weaknesses. Beyond this, however, RSA faced the serious challenge, as an internet security company suffering a major data breach, of how to repair their brand and adapt to a rapidly evolving information security landscape.
Enter Eddie Schwartz. Plucked from the position of integrating NetWitness into RSA, and asked by the Executive Chairman to take on the position of Vice President and Chief Information Security Officer at RSA itself, Eddie has been placed in a novel and complex security and public relations scenario. While he is exceptionally suited for the essential duties of managing the continuum of product and internal security, recent events at RSA call for his reputation, especially.
“I’m taking a lot of the good will I’ve built up in the industry over the years and a lot of street creds and putting that on the line,” Eddie says today. “We’re going to do things better and on a more certain track, and we’re going to lead the way against this kind of advanced adversary.”
As a veteran of the information security industry who was present almost at its inception, Eddie brings an expert’s perspective on what needs to change at RSA, not just in digital security systems, but also in RSA’s internal culture of security. Eddie is capitalizing on his established reputation in the field to show that RSA is serious not just about addressing their vulnerabilities, but also about communicating to the market, the press, customers, and shareholders that not only will RSA adapt to this new threat, but they will also lead the industry on how to defend against intrusions of this nature in the future.
The experiences that have equipped Eddie to wage digital combat against nation-sized adversaries on a global scale did not come from a straight and narrow path toward enterprise information security, as many might think. Rather, Eddie is a much more multi-dimensional character than that. For instance, most people who walk into his office might let their gaze wander over the impressive certificate hanging behind his desk signed by the president of Miss Universe, Inc., without really taking in the fact that Eddie played a key technical role in the pageant—not to mention that he was also the escort to Miss Universe, herself. “I still have my white satin jacket,” he laughs now. One also wouldn’t guess that he is a black belt in three different martial arts—a pursuit in which he is still active today—or that he has certified over a hundred SCUBA divers.
Raised in the south Bronx largely by his grandparents, Eddie attended Regis, a Jesuit preparatory school in New York City. Exchanging homework help for protection from run of the mill local gang members in the Bronx, Eddie was encouraged by his protectors to take up some kind of self-defense skill, which led him to start studying martial arts. “This was literally for self-defense,” he explains today. “It was the time of Bruce Lee, and I was tired of getting beaten up. I had to teach myself to fight in order to defend myself.”
Several of his neighborhood friends, who Eddie says didn’t see a future that made sense to them, ended up in the military or in vocational schools, but he himself was fortunate enough to attend a school that challenged him and encouraged him to question everything, and this helped him to develop his naturally high intelligence into a sharp, inquisitive mind. “I valued the Jesuit education immensely,” he says appreciatively. “Every aspect of the teaching, whether in science or the humanities, was taught from the angle of making you think through every detail, question everything, and come to you own conclusions.”
At Regis, Eddie’s chief extracurricular activities were in forensics—that is, public speaking—and stagecraft, such as stage management, lighting, and set design. He was able to work on Broadway with a lighting designer while still in high school, and when he applied to colleges, he gave up the Ivy League to pursue studies in technical theater at NYU. It wasn’t long, however, before he dropped out to work on Broadway, having passed the test to join a theatrical stage employee union, practically unheard of for someone his age. Eddie’s handle on emerging stagecraft technology made him a valuable asset to the established stage workers who were not yet comfortable with even the most basic computer-driven lighting systems. This ability to stay at the cutting edge of new technologies would serve Eddie well throughout his various future careers, as he would soon leave Broadway behind. “While working on Broadway,” he explains, “I met a lighting designer who was soon to depart New York to start a project in, of all places, Panama. And he asked me if I would come along.”
At this point, Eddie was no older than 21, and he found himself working a lighting design project in South America for about six weeks. And in case this wasn’t enough excitement for the Karate Kid from the Bronx turned Broadway stagecraft magician, just before he and the lighting designer were scheduled to leave Panama, they were invited by the Minister of Tourism to inspect a $50 million convention center that was being constructed there, funded by the Inter-American Development Bank. After the pair gave their professional critique of the undertaking, and the designer flew home, the Panamanian Ministry of Tourism requested that Eddie hang around and consult for them. “It turned into a very interesting time,” he remarks now. “After essentially designing everything in the facility, I branched out and became a powerhouse in the region.”
Eddie became the point-man for all things entertainment related in the area. He worked with CBS on boxing matches, International Song Festivals, and, of course, Miss Universe Pageants. “Six weeks became six years,” he marvels in retrospect. “I met a lot of interesting people. I spent time with Manuel Noriega. I met a lot of folks from the Foreign Service. And that’s eventually how I ended up with the U.S. government.”
Eddie’s extensive work and travel in the region ultimately led him to join the U.S. Foreign Service in 1986. He was placed in Central Europe, where he was first exposed to information security, initially through training, and later though chance encounters with those who are now considered to be the fathers of information security. “At the time there wasn’t very much public interest in this field,” Eddie recalls. “There were only a handful of people performing this kind of work at the time. But I took these encounters to heart.”
Just like the Jesuits trained him at Regis, Eddie started to engage in the mental acrobatics that are the hallmark of critical analysis. Putting these skills to the test, he was able to identify firsthand through his work in the Foreign Service the vulnerabilities associated with the proprietary communications used by diplomats and government operatives, particularly as modern networks evolved. “The potential value of the security field started to make sense to me,” he avows, “and I asked my government supervisors if I could be associated with that emerging field.”
This wasn’t an existing specialty at the time, but through his early connections in the field, Eddie stayed at the very brink of the fast-developing industry and became one of the first technical instructors for the government in issues related to network security. This ultimately led him to head an information security lab for the U.S. State Department, one of the first of its kind. “There I was,” he says, “this guy who had dropped out of theatre school, done Miss Universe pageants, spent some time overseas in IT… And all of a sudden I’m running a security lab full of PhDs.”
This experience not only exposed Eddie to Chief Information Officers of various U.S. federal agencies, but also allowed him to begin to conceptualize of his leadership potential. “What I realized there was that it isn’t necessarily about how smart you are,” he points out. “You’ve got to be a little bit smart, but it’s more about organizing the right group of people and taking them to the finish line. To me it was similar to ensuring that a live TV show like the Miss Universe pageant actually was on the air at 8 pm on a Friday no matter what.”
Eddie was able to leverage his intellect and creativity to translate his production experience in the entertainment industry into leadership and management ability in a cutting-edge information technology lab. Such transformational skill reflects an ability to synthesize right- and left-brain functioning—a forte that had always augmented his work. “I think I’ve always looked for situations where there is a natural tension between the creative and the technical,” he reports. “When you can create a balance in your head, in being able to look at engineering challenges that customers have and think about the problem both scientifically and emotionally, that’s where the great value add comes into play. If you accept that there should be a natural struggle within you, this will lead to better ultimate outcomes.”
Eddie first expressed this natural struggle in the martial arts, and it carried him through a challenging prep school, Broadway stagecraft, regional domination of TV and stage events in Central and South America, the Foreign Service, and the birth of information security. It carries forth now into his current career in the private sector, where he has worked in leadership positions in three successful exits, launched internationally acclaimed cyber security products, and now has landed in his most challenging position yet at RSA, where he faces off against the world’s most advanced cyber adversaries.
Even in light of all this, however, Eddie’s focus is on helping the people around him to live a richer and happier life, particularly those in his family, which he deems his proudest accomplishment. In advising young entrepreneurs entering the business world today, Eddie stresses the classic importance of humility, honesty, and a strong work ethic. “I have this idealistic vision that, irrespective of factors such as a difficult economy or other personal constraints, if you apply yourself in school and develop a framework for making difficult decisions, you can do whatever it is that you aim to do,” he affirms. “I still believe that to be true today. I look at where I came from and what I did. I know I worked really hard, and I studied the habits of people that really get it. Times may be hard, but people coming out of school should never stop dreaming.”
This advice hearkens back to that balance between the technical and the lyrical that have become the hallmark of his career and personal life. It is through the commingling of these yin and yang principles that one might hope to approach any situation with both the analytical thought and logic it takes to devise a solution but also with the personality and heart it takes to really execute it.