The man with one of the most demanding roles in technology
McAfee’s president Michael DeCesare deals with the fast-changing landscape of cyber security threats on a daily basis
Michael DeCesare, president, McAfee. photographs: eric luke
When you operate the world’s largest computer security company, the scale of the challenge you face is daunting: “It’s asymmetrical warfare – we have to protect every single spot where somebody can get access, and the bad guys only have to find one way in.”
So says Michael DeCesare, president of McAfee security and thus one of the key figures in the global computer security business. “You have to understand what the technical threat landscape is like these days. It’s very very different than it was even five years ago.”
Facing that changing landscape and adapting to new cyber-threats, and fast-changing business opportunities, means DeCesare’s is one of the most demanding roles in the technology business.
With his sharp suit and serious demeanour, he’s a far cry from the company’s founder, the notorious John McAfee who fled Belize last year after being accused of murder. DeCesare is the very opposite of a wild-eyed eccentric and indeed, despite the Italian name, DeCesare looks positively Irish, with pale skin and thinning red hair – he happily divulges the fact that his mother’s family is Irish.
“The security industry is very interesting – it’s incredibly fractured. We’re the big guys and we have about a 10 per cent market share,” he says. “What makes it unique to be in security is that it’s not really us against Symantec or anybody else, it’s all of us collectively against the adversaries.”
In cyber-security parlance, an adversary is any person or entity that poses a risk to your assets. But in the cyber-security business, the adversary is much more nebulous – the changing nature of our computer usage.
There was a time, not so long ago, when computer security meant protecting your PC from viruses, trojans and protecting yourself from online scammers and phishing attacks. It was a Windows-centric world, and the security risks meant every PC-owner was basically obliged to purchase anti-virus software. The biggest vendor of such software was McAfee, and it was an extremely lucrative side to the computer security business – the company grew big enough to be purchased for $7.68 billion by Intel in 2010.
But as DeCesare points out, the computing industry is changing fast, and just as Intel is showing vulnerabilities as the post-PC era means dwindling demand for its silicon chips as customers move to tablets and mobile devices, so McAfee must reposition itself as a broader-reaching security company.
DeCesare, it seems, relishes the new challenge. “Most of what you do on a smartphone is cloud-based. When you look at Intel, there’s a very similar paradigm between Intel and McAfee. It’s true that Intel doesn’t have as big a footprint on mobile and tablets as they do in the PC world, but they’ve got equally as big a footprint in the data centres. And the data centres translates to cloud-based computing. And it’s the same thing for McAfee.