The Paramedic's Guide to Surviving Cybersecurity

Conference:  BlackHat USA 2020



Challenges faced by cybersecurity professionals in their early career and how to overcome them
  • Cybersecurity professionals in their early career are enthusiastic and eager to learn, but tend to lack experience and context
  • One of the biggest challenges they face is the tendency to focus on skills without understanding when to use them
  • Picking the wrong role models, such as burnt out and cynical professionals, can also be dangerous
  • To overcome these challenges, cybersecurity professionals should focus on knowing the job, using checklists, zooming out to see the bigger picture, and embracing anti-fragility
  • In the ego phase, cybersecurity professionals may experience burnout and need to actively manage and prevent it by focusing on mental health fundamentals and relying on peer support
As a paramedic, the speaker learned the importance of knowing protocols and drug dosages, as well as using checklists to prevent mistakes. They also emphasized the need to zoom out and see the bigger picture, as well as embracing anti-fragility to thrive in chaos and uncertainty. In the cybersecurity field, it is important to pick the right role models and actively manage burnout in the ego phase.


The security world is fraught with cases of mental health issues, burnout, substance abuse, and even suicide. We live in a world of threats and responses that trigger the deepest parts of our psyche; with the barriers between "online" and the physical world constantly crumbling. While some deal in theory, many of us deal with real incidents, challenges, and dangers every day and are constantly looking for techniques to respond better while staying saner. While we sometimes look to the experiences of the military to guide us, a closer analogy is that of emergency services in general, and Emergency Medical Services in particular. EMS is a relatively young profession, with the first Paramedic only hitting the streets in the 1970's. They deal with both real-time incidents and chronic systemic failures. They are constantly challenged by changing research and environments, and face multiple possible career paths. They also struggle with one of the highest burnout and suicide rates in the working world. Rich Mogull has 30 years of experience as an EMT and Paramedic and over 20 years in information security. He's worked in inner cities, on mountaintops, and in major national disasters. Over the decades of following parallel careers he's realized not only the high degree of similarities between the two very-technical fields, but how security seems to be following a similar maturity path as EMS. In this story and research-filled session he will pull the lessons he learned in decades of emergency response and show how to apply them to your security career and daily practice to improve your effectiveness and mental resiliency, and perhaps avoid your first clean kill.