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Troy's GreyCastle exec says human component of cybersecurity is critical

Outlook

Troy's GreyCastle exec says human component of cybersecurity is critical

Co-founder Mike Stamas has seen firm grow from 2 to 65 employees since 2011
Troy's GreyCastle exec says human component of cybersecurity is critical
GreyCastle Security co-founder Mike Stamas, talks with one of his employees, Nina Buonarota at the company located in Troy.
Photographer: MARC SCHULTZ/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER

TROY — Mike Stamas once was half the workforce at GreyCastle Security, the cybersecurity firm he co-founded in 2011.

In eight years, it has expanded from two to 65 employees, using a combination of internal skills and external trends to grab and expand market share in the rapidly growing industry.

Computer system integrity and data security touch nearly every business and individual in some way, and so too does the threat of disruption. It is in this target-rich environment that GreyCastle operates, Stamas explained, but a key part of the job remains convincing businesses of the need for preventative measures.

“A lot of the areas where we help organizations strengthen their cybersecurity posture is actually on the business side,” said Stamas, who is now chief development officer. “There’s a lot of great technologies out there … but the biggest risks we see in organizations are not technology risks, they’re business risks – lack of planning.”

Stamas’ own background suits him to this role. He is versed in technology from previous jobs in telecommunications and information technology, but he’s generally been on the business or sales side through his career, not the technical side. He now pitches the need for cybersecurity rather than the specifics of its firewalls and protocols.

MARC SCHULTZ/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER
GreyCastle Security located at 500 Federal St. in Troy.
MARC SCHULTZ/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER
GreyCastle Security located at 500 Federal St. in Troy.

“A major part of what we do for our organizations is help IT people get the buy-in and support from the business that is essential for them to get ahead of regulatory concerns but more importantly to reduce risk,” he said.

Stamas, 42, has been in and around Troy most of his life. He grew up in Lansingburgh and now lives in Brunswick with his wife, Hava, and their twin 3-year-old daughters, Chloe and Sophia. Becoming a father at age 20 to his son, Evan, changed his college plans. Stamas worked as everything from a mailman to a repo man while going to school part-time and eventually earning a two-year degree at HVCC. 

Stamas recalls looking at cybersecurity a decade ago and recognizing its potential more than understanding its mechanics.

“Being in sales, for me, I saw the opportunity with cybersecurity because it was different,” he said. “Cybersecurity for me in 2008 is what you got out of a Cisco appliance or Norton or Symantec software.

“A lightbulb went off for me in around 2009, where we really started to identify where a lot of these problems were from a cybersecurity perspective.”

Stamas and Reg Harnish, who until recently was GreyCastle’s CEO, met while working at another IT company. It would take them a couple of years to work out the specifics, except for one: “When Reg and I thought about starting the company we debated a lot of different things. We didn’t debate where our headquarters would be.”

Harnish was a resident of downtown Troy at the time and Stamas was a city native, and both wanted to be in the city.

“When we started the company, we started right down the street at 291 River. We truly started from goal line: We didn’t have a book of business from another company, we started developing a business plan and designing what our services would look like, and we went out and met with the businesses that one would meet with here locally.”

Rapid growth

GreyCastle has expanded rapidly since then, to now include a network of remote employees, a bigger office on Federal Street in Troy, and satellite offices in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Rochester, New York. GreyCastle acquired smaller companies along the way and was itself acquired by a firm based at the former Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome. 

Stamas knows a lot more about cybersecurity now, but he’s still on the business side rather than writing protocols or redesigning networks.

“I think understanding the accounting principles and juggling a fast-growing business with also understanding the threats and risks that exist from a cybersecurity perspective, I think that dual understanding is powerful,” he said of his own role.

Most of the new cybersecurity professionals coming into the industry are interested in the technical side of the work, Stamas said. Most don’t have the skills and experience to make a business pitch, and most also don’t have an interest in doing it, Stamas added.

MARC SCHULTZ/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER
GreyCastle Security co-founder Mike Stamas, at the company located at 500 Federal St. in Troy.
MARC SCHULTZ/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER
GreyCastle Security co-founder Mike Stamas, at the company located at 500 Federal St. in Troy.

GreyCastle has a multipronged approach to cybersecurity:

It has technology teams that can run white-hat hacking attacks to find a client’s vulnerabilities before real hackers do; it has incident response and forensics teams that can determine what failed and how bad the breach was; and it has business teams that help management understand the importance of cybersecurity, not just for the client’s own safety but for regulatory compliance.

That’s where the castle metaphor comes from in the company’s name: It conjures an image of a granite fortress with multiple layers of defense. Not just a drawbridge, but a moat. With alligators in it. And tall walls. With archers on the parapets. And the crown jewels hidden in some deep interior vault, in case the attackers do get past all the defenses – because sometimes they do.

More from Outlook 2019

“We need to be right 100 percent of the time; our adversaries only need to get it right once,” Stamas said. “That’s the importance of not relying on any one component of your cybersecurity program.

“You’re always going to have threats from other countries and they’re going to be persistent and they’re motivated and they’re going to be successful – they’re getting wins. You can’t stop all threats.”

People are crucial

Cybersecurity comes down to three things, Stamas said: People, process and technology. Technology is just the start: Data has to be managed with a smart process and handled safely by employees.

“Many of the incidents that we respond to today are a failure of a human being or lack of a plan or lack or process to identify when information is exfiltrated from the organization,” he said.

“Our phone often rings with organizations that are experiencing some sort of event that is prioritizing cybersecurity for them,” Stamas said. “When we find those organizations, they become clients more than half the time we talk to them.”

MARC SCHULTZ/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER
GreyCastle Security located at 500 Federal St. in Troy.
MARC SCHULTZ/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER
GreyCastle Security located at 500 Federal St. in Troy.

In his limited free time, Stamas likes the local music scene and even sits in behind the drum kit once in a while. He also volunteers with the Downtown Troy Business Improvement District and YMCA.

“I like being involved with things happening here in downtown,” he said.

But GreyCastle occupies most of his attention.

“Growing this business has been my focus for the last seven, eight years, and it’s been the most rewarding thing ever. I used to think about going back and getting a bachelor’s degree and ultimately a master’s degree, and I think I still will at some point,” Stamas said.

“This experience of growing a company from two people to 65 people to 100 people ultimately in 2019 has definitely been the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done, the most I’ve learned and the most fulfilling thing aside from having a family that I’ve ever done.”

More from Outlook 2019

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