Mark Weatherford: The Veteran

Weatherford, a principal at The Chertoff Group, understands security from both governmental and commercial perspectives

Unlike many CSOs, who seem to take a winding path to the role, Mark Weatherford likes to say he's been working in information security his whole life. In grad school as part of his Navy service in the 1990s, Weatherford wrote a thesis on information security, an unusual topic at the time.

"It makes me cringe to read it now," he acknowledges with a laugh. "No one talked about information security at the time."

His last job in the service was running the Navy's computer network defense operations and its instant-response team. "That set the course for my career," he says. Following several years at Raytheon, Weatherford began working for state government, starting in 2006 as Colorado's first CISO.

"I built that program. It was unique and groundbreaking at the time," says Weatherford. Many states then had someone to head information security, but Colorado was the first state to enact legislation to elevate the topic of cybersecurity, according to Weatherford. "It was my first foray into the sausage-making of politics, working with a state senator and a state legislator, seeing the negotiations back and forth. It was very enlightening."

Being the head of security for a state government–or indeed any governmental agency–requires a perpetual balancing act and careful compromise, as Weatherford learned. "Being a security guy, I want to be autocratic in a way that you simply can't be in government if you want to get anything done."

And then there's the issue of funding, which came into sharp focus when Weatherford took a job as CSO for then-California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. About a month after he started his new role, the state began experiencing major budget issues that went on for years. "My tenure there was marked by doing something with nothing. We had to become creative and resourceful," he says.

At the end of that administration, Weatherford was lured by a friend to his first role in the private sector in years, at the North American Electric Reliability Corp., where he directed the cybersecurity and critical infrastructure protection program.

He relished the role. "I loved working in the electricity industry. It's something tangible. We are all so dependent on electricity. It was exciting," he says. And while the security budgets were hardly limitless, they nowhere near as tight as in government. But his days in the public sector were far from over.

In the summer of 2011 he got a call asking if he was interested in working as a deputy undersecretary for cybersecurity at the Department of Homeland Security. DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano encouraged him to join the team. Weatherford wasn't interested, frankly.

"I didn't want to go back to work for the government. Knowing the bureaucracy and inertia in the government, I knew I would struggle with that," he says. Eventually, he became convinced he would regret it for the rest of his life if he passed. "Very few people get an opportunity to do something like that," he says. So he took the job.

He was pleasantly surprised at the dedication of the people working in the DHS cybersecurity and communications organization. "They do a lot with not a lot," he says.

Figuring out how to share information between agencies and departments was a major part of his role. To do it, Weatherford worked on the National Cybersecurity Communications and Integration Center (NCIC), whose job is to coordinate cybersecurity across the government—law enforcement, FBI, Secret Service, Department of Defense, private sector, states, and so on.

"It was refreshing. People who would never know each other or talk to each other would interact on a daily basis," says Weatherford. "This group had been very immature and not functioning well. We helped turn it into a high-performance machine." He credits his team for their work.

Leading up to the presidential election last year, Weatherford started looking around to see what else was out there, in case of regime change. The opportunities he saw were so exciting that he decided to make a move regardless of whether Obama got re-elected.

"I was like a kid in a candy store. I was ready to go back to the private sector," he says.

As he looked at different companies, ranging from startups to large enterprises, he crossed the latter off the list.

"I didn't want to get back into a bureaucracy."

Consulting presented itself as the opportunity that would allow much more flexibility and autonomy. He joined The Chertoff Group in April this year.

"Most of my life, I have done operational jobs. I just wanted to do something different. I wanted to focus on cybersecurity and work with clients around the world. It has been an interesting transition," he says.

"What I enjoy the most is getting to work with a lot of different companies. The companies that are calling us really need my help," he says. "I am able to both satisfy my security jones and help companies from a strategic perspective.

"It's been an interesting career. Who knows what else is in my future?"

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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