Five questions with Dave Hansen, SafeNet CEO

In an industry with a lot of new competition, Belcamp-based SafeNet is a cybersecurity old hand: It's celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.

To put that into context: SafeNet predates the World Wide Web.

The company, founded with a focus on encryption, had a tumultuous past decade that included a stock options back-dating scandal while it was a publicly traded company. Now owned by a San Francisco firm that took it private in 2007, SafeNet says it protects nearly $1 trillion in transactions daily and has more than 25,000 customers, both government and commercial.

SafeNet CEO Dave Hansen is a relative newcomer to the company, coming onboard in December, but he has a background in the tech industry, including security. He chatted with The Baltimore Sun recently about cyber threats, data protection and ways consumers can safeguard themselves online.

How have cyber attacks changed over the years?

Two fundamental ways: volume and accuracy.

Five years ago, organizations and nation states were primarily concerned with keeping hackers out of their networks. Since then, hackers have become more sophisticated and are able to easily penetrate perimeter security mechanisms. Without additional layers of protection, all data within an organization will be left vulnerable once the perimeter is breached.

You're arguing that companies should think about how they store their data, rather than concentrating only on building a wall around that data?

In today's threat environment, it is not a matter of if, but when a company will be attacked. No matter where you look — market data, customer meetings or industry polls — it is clear that organizations know that hackers will breach their perimeter defenses, but they still struggle [with] how best to protect the data itself, which is the ultimate target of any attack.

Perimeter network security will continue to play an important role in keeping some attackers at bay, but as breaches become more complex and catastrophic, companies need to implement technologies and security strategies that better protect the data itself, where it lives and is stored. If the data itself is protected, or as we say, smartly encrypted, even if a company's firewall is penetrated, the data they have access to is rendered useless. …

Why does the average homeowner have a safe within their home? Because we know that locking the front door is only one layer of security. If someone were to get into your home, having a second layer of security for your most valuable possessions dramatically reduces the chances of a critical loss.

When you joined SafeNet, you said you saw growth potential as the private sector moves into cloud computing. What percentage of the company's clientele is commercial as opposed to government, and how is the commercial-client effort going?

While our company roots were steeped in building security solutions critical for the federal government, over time our product portfolio broadened to include more and more solutions for commercial enterprises. As we celebrate our 30th anniversary, we remain committed to having a good balance. …

Given the current threat environment and with many government organizations actively moving to cloud solutions, this is creating new demand for companies like SafeNet. Currently, we have a healthy mix of approximately 70 percent commercial enterprises and 30 percent federal government.

So much of everyday life has migrated online. What can average folks do to protect themselves as they bank, trade stocks, and shop via the Internet?

My recommendation here is to just think about what you are doing, where you are entering your sensitive information, and if something feels suspicious, it probably is.

Financial and retail organizations have put a lot of time and resources into making the Internet a safe place to conduct business, and the tactics used by hackers are almost always noticeable — if you don't feel secure, you probably aren't.

Many financial organizations are offering two-factor authentication technologies to their customers for online banking and trading — requiring a hardware token, PIN number, photo verification, or one-time password in addition to the standard username and password prior to being able to access secure information. Don't bank with an organization that can't offer you this extra layer of security.

Luckily, regarding online shopping, there are industry mandates that require merchants to put security mechanisms in place to protect credit card transaction details. However, even with those mandates being ordered, it is important to only conduct transactions with familiar and reputable merchants.

Consumers should also be sure to navigate to retail sites directly by manually entering web addresses, as opposed to following links from promotional advertisements and mailers. This will avoid consumers being re-routed by a phishing attempt — an attack in which a hacker attempts to gain your trust using bogus emails that redirect you to unsecure login pages which will capture and abuse your login credentials.

You live close enough to work that you can walk there. Does that make it harder to separate your SafeNet life from your personal life?

There are a lot of demands on any CEO, and achieving a good work/life balance can always be challenging. However, I made a commitment to the SafeNet team to lead the company and to do that I need to be very accessible to the employees. As we are headquartered here in Harford County, I did not think twice about living near our office, which borders a beautiful river and has some spectacular views.

In addition, I think it is incredibly important to be very active in the communities in which our company operates. … I have just [agreed to join] the Harford County Economic Development Advisory Board. In this capacity I aspire to help the county to continue to build a great reputation and attract new business to the area.

Dave Hansen

Title: President and CEO of SafeNet

Previous jobs: General manager at BMC Software; before that, CEO of Numara Software, which was acquired by BMC in 2012

Age: 48

Residence: Belcamp

Education: Bachelor's degree in computer science from Lakehead University in Ontario, Canada

Family: Wife Carol, son Erik and two dogs

Hometown: Thunder Bay, Ontario

Hobbies: Golfing and skiing

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