Keep your head up high, take care of your employees and fill the needs of your clients. That is survival and that is what matters, according to Alexa Raad.
On this episode of Women of Washington, Gigi Schumm welcomed Raad, chief operating officer at Farsight Security Inc. The contractor provides threat intelligence for Domain Name Systems (DNS).
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What about DNS really sparked her interest?
“Every security incident that ever happens — be it phishing, malware, botnets, etc. — leaves footprints,” Raad said. “So you can fake [some] records for example, but you cannot fake DNS.”
She said she really found the interconnectivity of DNS intriguing, especially when certain IP addresses with bad reputations were tagged to new websites. Farsight helps to spot those bad links. This is one way her company works to resolve domains for its clients and helps prevent issues with links that could be guilty by association.
Does staying away from the bad IP addresses help one stay away from the problems? Not necessarily, Raad said.
Her background makes her somewhat unique among federal workers. When she was a teenager, she escaped the Iranian Revolution with her mother and sister on the last cargo plane out of the country. In that moment, her life changed forever and she went from a relatively prosperous life in Iran to having almost nothing. But she said the experience taught her a valuable lesson:
“The only thing you have control over is yourself,” she said. “You don’t have control over circumstances … but you do have control over your actions and how you take them.”
Raad said life is not about who you used to be, but rather who you are. Her parents thought she would become a doctor one day, but her heart just was not in biochemistry. So she changed her major to marketing, instead. She loved working with people and leading projects.
“I’ve always been an entrepreneur at heart,” she said. “In fact, if you look at what I’ve done in my career, I have always started something. But it had always been under the auspices of another company.” As the internet evolved, she set her sights on technology and found her true calling.
For AT&T and Bell Atlantic, she helped to develop their Internet access and divisions. She also helped to create some of the first online payment systems with Cybercash and eventually opened her own business called Architelos.
Later she filed a patent for an internet language that would help companies to share threat data across their divisions and with partners. This sparked her fast-track career in computer systems analytics, security and DNS registry.
She hit some speed bumps along the way, closing her company due to an intellectual property lawsuit. Raad said she felt it was the perfect time to strike out because the internet and other online capabilities were still in their infancy.
“It took a full year and I had to spend a full year of resources and money to defend myself — none of which was recouped. So, I took a lot of lessons from that,” she said. “But the biggest lesson was … ‘this will not defeat me.'”
As CEO, Raad still had a team to mind, and it keeping people motivated during that trying time was hard. But what mattered was doing the right thing, she said. She was transparent about the lawsuit and the bankruptcy, thus helping to keep everyone, including customers, in the loop.
“You can lose anything else. And there it is, I lost everything,” Raad said. “But, it’s about what you have in your head and your heart … and that cannot be sold.”