Japan has always been at the heart of the IT industry. Rocked by the terrible Tohuku earthquakes on March 2011, the country is fighting back. In this special series of exclusive on-the-spot reports we look at various of the Japanese IT industry and how it will effect or sees the world.
2011 may have been big when it came to activity in the security space, but 2012 is already looking bigger, according Symantec Japan security response global operations manager, John McDonald.
As a security researcher with Symantec Japan since 2003, McDonald would be in a position to know.
“Every year has been bigger and noisier in security than the last,” he said.
“There are a lot more threats now and people are continually finding new ways to exploit security loopholes.”
When asked how the security landscape is now compared to what it was a decade ago, McDonald says that there are a lot more things that we need to do to combat those threats.
Based on what he is seeing, the number of new threats being discovered is “skyrocketing” now compared to the past, and that is now happening in the mobile space.
“2011 was big, but 2012 is already looking bigger,” McDonald said.
“It’s almost getting to the point where you have to run to keep up.”
For McDonald, that highlights the need more than ever for people to be security aware as the “bad guys” continue to get “bolder and cleverer.”
McDonald’s association with the security space goes back beyond his time at Symantec when he was at Telecom in New Zealand, where he was involved with network security.
“My wife is Japanese and we were living in New Zealand at the time,” he said.
“So we made the decision to come back to Japan, though we stayed in New Zealand a bit longer than we intended.”
Since McDonald was unable to transfer to Japan with Telecom, as they had no offices in the country, he specifically went to Japan to interview for several different positions, and one of them was with Symantec Japan.
“It was one of the companies that I was introduced to while I was here, although they were all similar companies into network design and security, which was what I had been doing,” he said.
“Symantec may have been just one of them, but it turned out to be the one I would end up working at.”
Although McDonald works with Symantec in Japan, he stresses that the research team is global.
More in tune
At the same time, being based in Japan and the APAC regions means that Symantec Japan is naturally “more in tune” with what is happening locally than in other regions.
“We’re awake during the business day here, so we have a bigger chance of seeing things as they happen,” McDonald said.
“So we do report a little more on local stuff than the other teams, but we are a global team.”
As for what it takes to be a security researcher, McDonald feels that an individual needs to be interested in computers and the Internet.
“It has to be that type of person, whoever that kind of person is,” he said.
“There are a lot of stereotypes about working in their basement all night, but you have to be interested in computers and devices, and research in general.”
The reality of the job is sitting in front of a computer and scouring the Internet all day in the name of research, something which McDonald says takes time, patience and dedication.
So a person interested in being a researcher would need to be that way inclined.
“You also need to have an eye for detail, not too dissimilar from what is expected of a private eye or detective, as you need to comb through a lot of details and have the ability to fit some of those details together,” he said.
When asked what his personal highlight was in watching the security evolve over the last decade, McDonald says that he has seen so many things that choosing a specific incident or event would be difficult.
“Being able to uncover some of the threats out there, something big such as Stuxnet, was definitely a highlight,” he said.
“Being part of something so significant is interesting, exciting and groundbreaking.”
Finding out what is going on and coming to “some sort of conclusion,” such as improving security and protection for our customers, is also what drives him.
“It is also about disseminating that information to customers and the public to bring some sort of closure, and that is very satisfying,” McDonald said.
When looking to the future, McDonald is unable to identity a single trend that he will be wary of, as he is always keeping an eye on “everything.”
“The area that is increasing is mobility, which is still in its early days but is soon expected to explode,” he said.
“Social networking security is getting bigger now that everyone is using it.”
One of the more significant, non-security related events that McDonald experienced was the Great East Japan (Tohuku) Earthquake in March 11, 2011.
At the time, McDonald was at the Symantec Japan office in Akasaka, Tokyo, which shook during the quake but sustained no damage.
“The earthquake happened and it was significant, but at the time I didn’t realise just how significant it was,” he said.
“I assumed it was just another earthquake, albeit a little longer than usual.”
Since the office interior was intact following the quake, McDonald said he went home at the end of the work day as he would have normally.
Other than people standing around outside buildings, which did not surprise McDonald as it is often the protocol following an earthquake in Japan, he did not notice any aftermath resulting from the disaster,
That was, not until he almost reached his home, where he saw some of the traffic lights were not working.
“That was the first damage I noticed,” he said.
“Then when I arrived at my apartment, I noticed that things had fallen over, cupboards had flown open.”
McDonald admits in hindsight that he did not really know how bad the quake had really been until he had returned home.
One year has passed since that fateful date, but McDonald still concedes to being “nervous.”
“Not because of what happened, but what is predicted to happen,” he said.
“They’re predicting a 70 per cent chance of another large earthquake striking the central Tokyo region within the next few years.”
While he says that is a bit unnerving, McDonald points out that he still is, and will be, in Japan.
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• CSR in Tohoku is more than a one-time activity, says Fuji Xerox
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