PROFILE: CSP-CERT co-founder believes a good security officer must possess the ‘attacker and militarized mindset’

Joseph Felix Pacamarra, co-founder and chief strategy officer of Cybersecurity of the Philippines-Computer Emergency Response Team (CSP-CERT), was just 19 years old when he realized that he wanted to specialize in a discipline that “transcends software, hardware, and brand.”

Pacamarra was 19 when he was first introduced to security while taking up Microsoft Server Management and Administration course in 1999.

“It was a realization at the time,” Pacamarra said. “By looking at a class of 25 plus professionals who are in their mid- to late 30s, I understood that there’s no opportunity in an overcrowded community of IT Administration. If I’m going to invest in my future it has to be in a specialized discipline.”

Although Pacamarra refuses to call himself a security expert, he does deal with matters that deal with cybersecurity such as malware handling, management and monitoring of security applications, risk and threat assessment, incident response, intelligence collection and verification (OSINT), and security training, among others.

He is the co-founder of CSP-CERT, a Computer Security Incident Response Team (CSIRT), which was recognized as the first registered Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT®) in the Philippines. CERT® is a registered trademark under the Division of the Software Engineering Institute located in Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania, United States. CSIRT is a service organization responsible for receiving, reviewing, and responding to computer security incident reports and activities. Its members study and solve problems with widespread cybersecurity implications, conduct research and development and provide advisories on security compromises under the Philippines Autonomous System Number (ASN).

Among his other duties include the collection of evidence to assist in the prosecution of cyber criminals and their sponsor or sometimes just dismissal of an employee, community advocacy, conceptualizing new technology and techniques to identify, detect, collect and counteract attackers and their sired zero-day malicious technologies.

Pacamarra starts his day with security briefing and review of the last eight to 16 hours he was not on the office or site.

“After which the action approach starts – then followed by execution and rollout of the action plans, which can take from 30 minutes depending on what case I’m handling,” he said.

The entire day will be about “juggling the current issue and the new incoming threats. So, in short, never a dull day.”

Pacamarra admitted that “almost every segment of a security work is challenging.”

But for people like him whose job is to ensure cybersecurity, the most rewarding part is “the idea that you detected and prevented an attack that wasn’t prevented or detected by existing technology with less to no resources at all in your disposal.”

Philippine cybersecurity

“Every company needs a cybersecurity team comprised of individuals with different security specialization, seasoned and mature skillsets,” Pacamarra explained. “Such a team isn’t just important but is a requirement to better protect the interest of an organization from internal and external threats from attacking digital interest and asset of the organization.”

He believes that a good security officer must possess the “attacker and militarized mindset” to have a holistic understanding of the security environment.

“Moods or emotions do not have room in security, they just need to be cold and calculated,” he said.

Gartner recently released a study saying that only 65 percent of organizations have security experts and Pacamarra agrees with it.

“It’s true that there are not enough skilled security practitioners,” he said. “Some who have acquired such skills have walked into the darker side of the industry to earn a living since most companies in the Philippines has a depreciated operating expenses for security practitioners. And some only have with them a ‘certification’ but with less to no actual field experience in handling real attacks and threats.”

While there is an increasing interest in cybersecurity because of reported security breaches in companies based in the Philippines, Pacamarra said that currently, “the country is just at approximately 40 percent average acceptance of the idea of cyber threat or attack as a concern to major industries, workplace, home, personal well-being. Philippines need a serious a push from the government like what National Privacy Commission did with the enforcement of RA 10173 or the Data Privacy Act of 2012. But perhaps Filipinos needs a debilitating cyber-attack before they get a grasp of reality.”

Knowing that the field of cybersecurity will be more demanding in the future as evidenced by the evolving types of attacks, Pacamarra advised those who want to join the ecosystem to “get married first before you commit to cybersecurity field. Do not try become an expert, continue learning and acquire stubborn persistence and passion.”

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