Niell Feather

Yes, Even Your Website Will Be Attacked

3 minute read
Matthew Brodsky avatar

Neill Feather is a frustrated programmer at heart.

He still writes macros in Microsoft Excel to flex that muscle in his brain, which he first started building in junior high school, he said.

But he is also quick to laugh and praise the "much better people" that he has doing the coding and engineering at his current gig as Scottsdale, Ariz.-based President of cybersecurity firm SiteLock.

Risk and Prevention

Feather's rise to leadership in this ever-important tech space is a testament not just to the importance of and focus on cyberrisk across industries. It also speaks to the rise of analytics.

Earlier this summer, for example, SiteLock determined popular, highly complex websites are the most likely targets of attackers. In fact, sites with increased popularity and a high number of features were 12 times more likely to be hacked.

The conclusion was based on analysis of a million SiteLock-scanned sites from February through April.

“Businesses can no longer assume they’re immune from cyber attacks. It’s not a matter of if they’ll be attacked: it’s when,” he said.

Feather is currently working on an e-book report in conjunction with Wharton Business School about the risk of website compromise.

The Guy Loves Data

Feather’s personal rise took him from a junior high schooler programming on the side to an undergraduate at Penn State University, dual majoring in statistics and international business.

With that background he earned a spot in Johnson & Johnson's rotational IT management program.

The role sent him around New York, New Jersey and the tristate area, and around J&J itself, from its pharma to its consumer business units.

Throughout, he was managing large-scale data sets and distilling business intelligence to help market and grow businesses.

A great learning opportunity no doubt. But what struck Feather was the impact he was having. At a "big machine" like J&J, he recalls, he could have the greatest year of his life professionally but make a blip of an impact on the corporation.

Another learning opportunity — an executive MBA from 2006 to 2008 through the world-class Wharton School — helped him pivot to another opportunity, another career. Through contacts at Wharton, he met investors in SiteLock, which was getting off the ground in 2008.

Learning Opportunities

Since, he and his team have brought the company's strategy to life — analyzing large data sets looking for bad trends like malware, malicious code and other vulnerabilities in their customers' more than 5 million websites and across the wider Internet.

Threat Evolution

Reality is coming around to meet that strategy, it appears.

The first wave of cyberattacks were aimed at PCs and end points in corporate networks, Feather explains. Firewalls, anti-viruses and other defenses evolved. Now, 80 percent of attacks aim at web applications.

And seemingly, the defense now has become: There is no defense good enough, so let's prepare for when the eventual breach happens.

'That is definitely a sentiment that is out there," Feather said. "That's not good enough for us."

Bravado aside, Feather concedes that preparing for an eventuality is a pragmatic approach to security.

Brace Yourselves

Part of that approach is communication, being open about what happened, forthright about how you're handling it and clear how you'll prevent more breaches in the future — giving people a reason to forgive you.

But Feather's business is prevention, and prevention for clients across the spectrum of businesses. Whatever their industry, clients turn to Feather and his team to secure their websites by applying data analytics.

That way, the clients offload the expense and complexities of cybersecurity to a group of "much better people" at it.

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