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by Senior Editor

How IT Security Pros Blow Off Steam

Jun 04, 20086 mins

An IT security pro's job can be hell. To stay sane, it helps to have an outlet to wring out the job stress at day's end. Here's what some of your peers are doing.

Fighting with skeptical bean counters to approve a necessary security investment. Explaining to users for the hundredth time why it’s a bad idea to click on strange e-mail attachments. Taking the hit for a data breach after the security investment has been rejected and the attachment has been opened.

Sometimes an IT security pro’s job is hell.

To stay sane – and effective at the job – it helps to have an outlet to relieve the pressure. For Bill Boni, Motorola’s corporate vice president of information security and protection, the way to do that is to send toy troops into battle. Since the 1970s, he has passionately pursued the art of Little Wars, a tabletop exercise where the player creates armies of miniature soldiers. Using a set of rules H.G. Wells created in 1913, he maneuvers them over hostile terrain to engage opponents in battles that end in victory or defeat.

“Leading a miniature army into simulated conflicts to victory or defeat allows me to sublimate those unresolved frustrations and release stress in a way that I have found relaxing and energizing,” Boni says.

He recently expanded his collection to include science fiction-themed units to recreate futuristic battles from films and books like “Starship Troopers” and “Hammer Slammers.” In his humble opinion, it beats video games. conducted an unscientific poll and found that IT security pros turn to a variety of stress relievers to keep mind and body intact. Here are some of them:

How to martial strength Chris Hoff, chief security architect in the systems and technology division at Unisys and an advisor at Skybox Security, gets his kicks from Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ)

Not surprisingly, several of those polled said they rely on the martial arts to vent out the day’s trauma.


He trains up to six times a week and describes it as “violent kinetic chess” an “incredible” workout that mixes cerebral situational awareness with athleticism, technique, strategy and focus.

“When I lived in Southern California, my outlet for stress revolved around speed – the go-fast world of 600-plus HP supercharged Mustangs, 125cc shifter karts and my motorcycles,” Hoff says. Since moving to New England nearly three years ago, however, he says life has gotten a little more pedestrian and family-focused. His love for the martial arts has been percolating for the last year or so. “The beauty of BJJ is that you have to focus 100 percent on what you’re doing And as such, the rest of the world fades away. You leave the stress, sweat and sometimes blood on the mat.”

When traveling, he seeks out BJJ academies and trains wherever and whenever he can. During April’s RSA security conference in San Francisco, he and fellow BJJ buff Jeremiah Grossman (founder and CTO of WhiteHat Security) took a night off and went to a local academy to train.

Another martial arts enthusiast is Richard Bejtlich, director of incident response at General Electric.

“I like the fact that failing to focus during the activity will likely result in being knocked out,” he says. “There’s no room for thoughts of digital security when fighting, so it’s a great diversion.”

Paintball and pictures Jeff Bardin, the joy comes from pointing a gun stuffed with paintballs. For Ernie Hayden, a principal at 443 Consulting and former CSO of the Port of Seattle, the weapon of choice is his camera.

For some, nothing is more satisfying after a brutal day at the office than pointing and shooting. For longtime security pro

Bardin – a former NSA code breaker who has worked for a number of Fortune 500 companies over the years plays a variety of paintball games on weekends, “from ‘capture the flag’ to full frontal assault activities much like Pickett’s Last Charge,” he says, referring to a Confederate assault on the last day of the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War.

Hayden chooses a more placid shooting activity photography. He says it’s hard not to take pictures since he lives in the Pacific Northwest. Shooting the scenery sooths the office nerves.

“Because I live in one of the most beautiful places on Earth, it’s easy to go out there and let my artistic mind take over,” he says.

Born to run (and lift weights) Strenuous Life.

When Hayden needs to do something more physical, he goes to the gym to lift weights or sweat it out on the elliptical machines. Most of those interviewed say they also do some form of hard exercise, subscribing to what Teddy Roosevelt called the

Mike Chapple, an IT security pro with the University of Notre Dame, says he runs off the job stress. “There’s nothing like a 20-mile run to help clear your mind of the day-to-day trivialities and spend some time thinking about strategic issues,” he says.

For the dogs

Peter Bamber, vice president of IT security services at Security Management Partners and a volunteer with the SANS Internet Storm Center, subscribes to muddier pursuits. When the work day ends, his prescription for survival includes turning off the BlackBerry and taking his two dogs to a local pond to throw around a rubber ball.

Afterwards, however, he says he must “avoid the wife” because the dogs charge through the house with their wet and muddy hair.

Family and home

As gratifying as it may be to fire a paintball gun or lead toy soldiers into battle, others simply blow off steam through their family and home maintenance routines.

Keith Gosselin, information technology officer at Biddeford Savings Bank in Maine, used to turn to golf as a stress reliever. That has fallen by the wayside since he became a parent, however. Now he works off the stress by puttering around the house, splitting wood and cleaning the yard.

Dave Bixler, CISO at Siemens IT Solutions and Services Inc., finds his release at his kids’ athletic events, where he “cheers his brains out.”

“With three kids playing a total of four different sports — soccer, football, lacrosse, and track– I generally don’t have to wait too long for the next game to come along,” he says.