How Former Bomb Disposal Expert and Lighting Designer Shaked Vax Pivoted Toward a Cybersecurity Career

There’s no doubt that a cybersecurity breach can blow up a business, but it’s still surprising to hear Shaked Vax, worldwide technical sales leader at IBM Security, compare some aspects of his cybersecurity career to his time with the Israeli Army’s bomb disposal unit.

“One of the key things you are taught when approaching an improvised explosive device (IED) to dismantle it is to avoid coming from the obvious direction — the direction the attacker assumed you will come from,” Shaked explained. “Come from the back, from the side, from the top — however you can approach that is unpredictable.”

The same advice applies to cybersecurity, especially when it comes to the ways in which attackers target the users in their sights. The best way to identify them or launch a counterattack is by using the most innovative tools and approaching from the most unpredictable angle. According to Shaked, that’s how we can use attackers’ own methodologies against them.

Walking on Wires — and Cutting Them

Another link between Shaked’s two lives is caution. He believes, and has learned from experience, that being afraid actually helps to protect you because it makes you more alert. When you are bold and overconfident, that’s when mistakes may happen — whether that means using the wrong approach to dismantle a bomb, or being complacent with your company’s cybersecurity protocols.

“Newsflash: Stuff can hurt you, and you should be super alert when handling it,” the former bomb disposal expert advised. “Being cautious, on your toes and thinking of it as a rivalry allows you to be more in tune, and that’s something I took forward to in my role in cybersecurity. It’s how I operate and think now. It becomes ingrained in your veins and it really gets to be part of you.”

Shining a Light on Cybersecurity

Despite these strong threads between his past and present lives, a career in cybersecurity was not always in Shaked’s vision. He studied theater design at university and later went on to design lighting for rock concerts, operas, theater productions and TV studios.

While studying for his master’s degree, Shaked was offered a job working in an Israeli technology company that created lighting control boards — similar to the soundboards you see at concerts, but used to control the light show.

It was a great springboard for the budding lighting designer because he was hands-on in quality assurance and involved in new features and designs. A chance promotion saw him move into product and marketing management at the company, where he got even more engaged and started leading new offerings and feature designs.

“It was exciting because going to visit a customer meant I was going to meet lighting designers and lighting operators in a rock concert or an opera house or a disco club, which was awesome,” he recalled. “It was a great way to do market research.”

This area of theater design is “very, very technological,” Shaked explained. “You can imagine how much computing power is required to manage hundreds of lights that move and morph in real time, and how many innovative UI concepts need to go into a system to allow the operator to really interact with the show.”

So while he was working with his first love, he was developing another — technology — and becoming fascinated with how it interacts with our world. The dot-com bubble and the rise of the Israeli startup scene in the 2000s excited Shaked, and he wanted to push his technology career further, outside of lighting design. Colleagues recommended him for a role at cybersecurity firm Check Point, and thus his passion for lighting became just a passion again; his career was now cybersecurity.

Shaked moved up the ladder again at Check Point, where he worked in research and development and helped to innovate new security information and event management (SIEM) and Secure Sockets Layer virtual private network (SSL VPN) products, and later jumped around the tech scene as a product manager. He arrived at Trusteer just a few months before it was acquired by IBM Security in 2013.

“Trusteer got acquired by IBM, which gave me a great career path,” he said. “I got to expand in offering management, learning a lot about how a big business manages products and portfolios, and many more business perspectives.”

Shaked Vax approached his cybersecurity career from an unexpected angle

A Positive Spin on Fraud Prevention

As a product manager, Shaked had always been focused on the technology, the customers and the sellers. At IBM, he got to learn the business perspective of what he was doing.

He moved from Israel to Boston with his family three years ago to take on a strategic role, looking to expand the Trusteer business to new markets and solve new problems with the advanced fraud prevention technology. Although it was traditionally focused on banking and financial fraud, Trusteer’s technology is branching out.

“We call it trusted digital identity instead of fraud prevention,” said Shaked. “We’re looking more positively at how we enable businesses to do digital transformation and engage better with their customers over digital channels.”

Shifting focus from the negative implications of fraud and into more positive trust-based messaging is a market evolution, Shaked explained. Many technologies previously used for fraud detection are becoming increasingly intertwined with identity and access management (IAM) tools because identity fraud prevention centers on transparently ensuring that users are who they say they are.

Taking Identity Trust to New Places

“At the end of the day, authentication solutions were designed to correlate and prove digital identities,” said Shaked. “However, what was initially created as fraud solutions does that transparently. It does this without asking you anything, which is where everyone wants to be — passwordless, frictionless.”

Shaked now leads Trusteer’s technical sellers across the world as part of his mission to take the identity fraud prevention technology to new places. Although it’s a relatively new role, he is building the team and driving improvements in how it operates, ensuring that sellers have the tools and knowledge they need across the entire portfolio.

And if you’re wondering, yes, Shaked still occasionally has his hands in lighting design. The bomb disposal work, though, has stayed firmly in the past. These days, he’s focused on keeping businesses from blowing up.

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