e Living life in a state of discomfort – Rylan Painter discusses defending national cyber security, meditation and making the world a happier place. - Equate Technologies

Living life in a state of discomfort – Rylan Painter discusses defending national cyber security, meditation and making the world a happier place.

Jun/24/2021

Background

I’m originally a Queenslander, born in Bundaberg. I grew up there until I was 17 when I left to join the Navy. I’ve come back to Queensland because I missed it. I’ve travelled a lot and getting back to my roots was important – plus I get to see friends, connect more with family and enjoy the warm weather.

Tell me about your role in the Navy

I originally wanted to be an Electronics Technician but wasn’t successful. The second option available to me was a Communication and Information Systems (CIS) Sailor. I wasn’t really into IT as a kid at school and didn’t know much about it. Regardless, I joined the Navy and learnt the skills required to operate and maintain the many communication systems needed for a naval ship at sea. My every day focus was spread across keeping the ship’s critical IT infrastructure operational, configuring and maintaining military communication channels, waving flags, and flashing lights. I learned everything from how radio waves bounce off the Earth’s upper atmosphere to morse code. It was a pretty interesting job description for a 17-year-old kid.

Why did you go into the Navy, instead of going into an apprenticeship?

I never wanted a conventional job. I was never a classic student and going to university didn’t appeal. I wanted to do something that nobody else I knew would do or had ever done. It was exciting to get dressed up in a military uniform, see the world, and live in places I would never choose voluntarily.

I wanted to be forced to be uncomfortable. It’s become a pivotal part of who I am and has definitely turned me into the person I am today. Joining the Navy when I did was the best decision I’ve made (so far).

How did you transition from Able Seaman to Cyber?

I was on different ships for most of my career and wanted to go and work ashore on a base to get some stability back in my life. I saw a posting opportunity for a Cyber Security Analyst and although I had no experience in cyber, defending Australia’s national interests in military cyber security seemed exciting.

I joined the Defence Security Operations Centre (DSOC), the SOC for the Department of Defence, as a Junior Analyst. I started learning cyber security while on the job and the learning curve was very steep. I had a lot to learn in a really short timeframe.

What was the most exciting project you were involved in?

I ended up becoming a team lead for one of the Watches and was then given the opportunity to be involved in Cyber Flag, a major cybersecurity exercise in the U.S. that involved many other militaries and government agencies from around the world. We spent a month participating in the exercise which was really eye opening and I got to spend time working alongside some of the most sophisticated cybersecurity capabilities in the world. One of the highlights was chatting to the cyber incident response team for the U.S. Marines, who mentored us about incident response and cybersecurity analysis and practices, methodology and reporting.

When I returned to Australia, I joined the Threat Hunting Team which gave me the chance to participate in Cyber Flag once more, and I also deployed to Afghanistan.

Then you transitioned into Civilian life?

As my posting was coming to an end, I decided to go all in on the cyber career. I discharged from the Navy and became a civilian when I moved to a public servant role in DSOC as a Cyber Threat Intelligence Analyst. My transition was a relatively easy step because I just transferred to a different role in the same organisation the following week. But the life transitions that come with a discharge from the military are tougher. People are affected in different ways. Depression is a huge problem for veterans.

After a year or so, I became the team lead for the Cyber Threat Analysis Team, in charge of 12 analysts. We were a very busy team as we were the primary cyber threat intelligence capability for Defence and the workload was heavy but exciting.

Being in a job where you are looking at some of the world’s most complex cyber security problems from a strategic to tactical level is so unique. You’re directly responsible for investigating intrusion attempts by nation state threat actors to make an assessment on the threat. Obsessively analysing threat actor techniques, Defence’s threat surface, and figuring out how to detect and respond to cyber threats against Defence to reduce their potential impact.

And that’s one of your loves now?

Threat Hunting and Threat Intelligence? Yes. And while it’s pretty full on in the Defence context, the principles are the same in the businesses we support as Equate Technologies. We still have to understand the threats and vulnerabilities, and inform our clients on risk. At a higher level, we are also playing our part in defending the nation’s critical infrastructure and reducing the threat surface available to foreign actors. We have customers that are attractive targets for taking down Australia’s critical infrastructure and the work Equate put in to defending those targets supports a much greater mission. So, the principles are the same and that broader mission is what drives me as a civilian today.

How did you find Equate?

I’ve been watching the Brisbane market for the last five years or so. At the time I started looking, cyber was still new in Brisbane. There were businesses here who needed it but not many solutions or providers to address the problem. Still today, we’re not in the same mature state as places such as Canberra, Sydney, or Melbourne where the massive SOC’s are located.

I had always wanted to come to Brisbane for the right opportunity in a company I wanted to work for. I genuinely wasn’t interested in slotting into a company to just do a job. I wanted to be part of building something – and that’s when I found Equate.

What attracted you to the company?

I initially chatted to Colin Stubbs and James Tucker, and it became clear quite quickly that there were opportunities to make a difference. It’s an established business with goals and objectives that aligned with my own.

I felt connected to the business because the intent and mission was very genuine. The position description didn’t just talk about technical ability, it was community based and that was important to me. So, I brought my plans forward – I wasn’t originally planning to move for another 6 or 8 months but the opportunity was too good to miss.

Is it all you’d hoped for?

Yes, everything turned out to be true. It’s a good work life balance and a great culture. The people here are really nice, the goals and objectives are aligned with my own, and it’s at a growth phase I wanted to be involved in.

Are you still comfortable with being uncomfortable?

I’m definitely not fearless. I’m scared of a lot of things like a lot of people, but I still have the same mindset. I still like to challenge myself and put myself in uncomfortable situations. I believe it’s like a muscle you need to work, so more you work out that uncomfortable mindset, the stronger it will be.  I also believe that putting yourself in both mentally and physically challenging situations is an important rule of life, so I try to live like that.

How does that manifest?

I’ve registered for a triathlon at the end of the year, which I never thought I would do and never thought it would even be possible. I’m training for it but I have a long way to go because I’m not a very good swimmer; ironic having been in the Navy for so many years.

I also do mixed martial arts, which is literally training by participating in controlled violence. Before I started training, I made excuses as to why I couldn’t do it for a long time, and one day just decided to start. Now I’m addicted, and I train most days doing either Jiu Jitsu, Muay Thai, or MMA.

Last month, I went to a sleeping yoga seminar hosted by a traditional Buddhist monk in Canberra. I saw an ad where there was an opportunity to learn the traditional ways of sleeping yoga by a Tibetan Monk. My partner, Paris and I did a two-day retreat which was really eye opening and a small group of the population I’d never normally come into contact with. It was totally outside of my comfort zone.

There were some good takeaways including

  • Don’t take your phone to bed
  • Drop all of your troubles at the door of your bedroom and go to sleep
  • Don’t engage in videos or scary movies before bed
  • Learn to breathe properly to improve sleep
  • Meditate as often as you can.

And outside of fitness, how do you challenge your mind?

I like to train my mind through meditation, which is a skill that needs to be learned. I do mindfulness meditation and have been doing that for a couple of years now. I find it extremely beneficial to be able to take a few minutes to stop the constant noise and distraction of life events.

In cyber security, it’s critical to be alert. Your cognitive load is always strained and trying to remember more than the seven things that one person can, is a challenge. When you’ve got a lot of things happening at once, stopping to be mindful at your desk, and noticing your surroundings can clear your mind and make all the difference. It really allows you to focus back on the task at hand and often perform the task better.

Do you share this with your team?

Some people are a bit hesitant to take on meditation, but I’ve talked about it with some people here though I haven’t organised a formal meditation session yet!

Tell me about your involvement in the community?

I believe that, if I can afford a coffee from the café every day, then I’m pretty well off. So, I try and help those that aren’t so fortunate where I can. I feel passionate about supporting people who have found themselves in a position that is not ideal, either through mistakes they make themselves or other factors outside of their control.

I’m involved in a charity called ‘The Period Project’ which is an Australia-wide initiative that provides support, menstruation products and essential living items to women, non-binary people, and trans men experiencing homelessness and housing uncertainty. Being on the streets is dangerous enough but every woman, non-binary or trans person has the right to retain a decent level of hygiene. By supporting a smaller charity I know I’m making an impact by helping people feel more confident in presenting themselves on an equal footing.

I’ve also recently registered for a Youth Program hosted by Vinnies called ‘The Youth Buddies Program’, helping disadvantaged youth. Some don’t have a home or parents; others are victims of bullying or come from a challenging background. This program is looking for volunteers to go on social events, like camping trips and soccer or physical activities. You really just talk with them and become a friend for them without bias or judgment.

You have an intrinsic need to make a difference to the population. Where does that stem from?

I’m only 25 but I feel like I have lived a full life. I’ve seen the good and the bad in many environments and cultures different to that I grew up in. I consider myself lucky to have a roof over my head and there’s no reason why my luck didn’t run out and end up in the same situation as some of these people.

Finally, Rylan what’s your purpose in life?

To invest time in improving and increasing happiness for myself and others as much as possible.

img