Interviews

Anomali's Maurice Kelly talks threat intelligence and NI Dev Conf sponsorship

  • Belfast is quickly becoming a global cyber-security hub, with the rapid growth of the tech industry here and world-class universities fuelling an explosion in successful cyber-security startups. The region has already attracted considerable investment both in international cyber-security firms setting up offices here and in local businesses competing successfully on the global stage.

    Anomali is one of those companies here at home that's making big waves in the global stage, providing a powerful threat intelligence platform for digital infrastructure and systems that helps everyone from major financial institutions to governments make the right decisions regarding their cyber-security needs. The firm is also one of the platinum sponsors in this year's annual NI Dev Conf event, which is due to kick off in just over a week on June 8th.

    We caught up with Anomali's Software Engineer Manager of Integrations Maurice Kelly at the company's Belfast office to find out more about what Anomali does in the secretive world of digital threat intelligence and why the company is sponsoring NI Dev Conf this year. If you didn't manage to get a ticket to the conference before they sold out, enter our social media competition on either Twitter or Facebook for a chance to win one.


    Sync NI: So to start off with, tell me a bit about yourself and your role at Anomali.


    Maurice Kelly: These days I'm, the term is Software Manager or sometimes Engineering Manager. I joined Anomali just over two years ago, April was my two year anniversary. I came in as a principal engineer, and then became a technical lead and then moved up to manager about a year ago.

    I wasn't entirely comfortable, it was those things were my boss at the time said "Listen, we have a spot and we're gonna have to hire a manager, do you want to try it?" I said, "Yeah, sure, as long as I get to still do bit of coding from time to time." I'm still very hands on in my day-to-day, but probably doing more more management than I anticipated.

    Then for a while we had no product manager so I was doing that as well. It's been a busy six months, we have a product manager now so thankfully I've been able to relinquish that responsibility. For a time I said that I didn't enjoy, not the pressure, but there's the adrenaline rush when things are moving and a lot of different gears are all going at the same time.

    So how's it been for Anomali over the past two years, because you've scaled up very rapidly haven't you?

    Oh yeah. When we started, we were over in Titanic Suites on Adelaide Street and I think we were all just in one room at that stage. So it was one boardroom in Titanic Suites, and we filled that room and filled another room, and then another over in Titanic Suites.

    We got this floor here and then we took another floor, so there's a lot of empty space out in the room there but we're already talking about where we're going to squeeze in more desks because the plan is to fill all of those. Like every company in Belfast these days, I don't know where we're going to get them all.

    Is it challenging to find people qualified in the field right now, because there's such competition here that they call it almost a war on graduates?

    It depends on What do you mean by find, so it's easy to find people. I think you could open the window and throw a stone or your phone, and you'll hit somebody who could work for you, but the problem is actually convincing them to come work for any company, not just for Anomali.

    I said to Owen that I think part of our problem is nobody knows who we are. As a security company, we're really good at security because we're kind of stealthy. People know that Anomali is here because they hear people say they work for Anomali, but they don't see an awful lot of our name anywhere.

    That used to be good, but I felt like it was holding us back so I pitched us get involved with the conference as a way to get our name out there. I also had a like an ulterior motive in that I just wanted the company to be more involved in the thing. The conference is great, and I've been there the last few years.

    Do you think that the much bigger copanies out there with more resoures can better get their names out there?

    Yeah, but even if you look at our competitors in terms of the fact that we're all competing for the same pool of developers and quality engineers and support folks. What I've noticed is that a lot of people are going to the likes of Bazaarvoice or Smashfly or Flexera. A lot of these companies are not bigger but they're better known because they've got people here talking about them quite a lot.

    Do you think that sponsoring events like NI Dev Conf is important?

    Yeah. So Bazaarvoice sponsored and NI Dev Conf last year, and Smashfly as well who are currently our neighbours in there. Bazaarvoice were our neighbours in there as well, and they're sponsoring NI Dev Conf again this year. So it starts to become almost like if you're not sponsoring events, do you even exist? We were at that scale last year because I think we were bigger than some of those companies last year, but we just we weren't sponsoring it.

    I'm proud of what we do as a company because, we're not saving lives in terms of curing cancer or anything like that, but the threat intelligence that we provide is really important to so many businesses and institutions. I don't know if I can say who.

    Could you tell me you can tell me, what does your typical client look like? Who would use your services?

    Our typical client is a large enterprise company or government institution or financial institution, who has an interest in keeping their data on their customer data safe. That's what gives me a good feeling about what we do, because there are probably government agencies throughout the world that are using our stuff to protect the data of their citizens.

    And we're not just an engineering organization here, we've got cyber research team. So we have folks downstairs here actively working to provide threat intelligence and to produce our own. They're producing white papers, they're identifying new threats, and they're doing research and they're doing joint projects with other research groups to get that kind of information.

    The stuff they do is phenomenal, they're doing reverse engineering of malware and analysis of campaigns and things like that. It's pretty cool stuff, and it's very tempting to ask, "can I be part of that?"

    I suppose you're trying to get across to people that there's this exciting thing going on here now and there are people here who are interested in this field?

    Yeah. It's one of those things where you don't want too many people to know about it, because you don't want to be a target either. So a recent example was the guy who found the vulnerability in the WannaCry malware, the one that turned on the NHS. This guy over in England discovered the vulnerability in that software that meant you could bypass the ransomware. I think he's now facing trial in the United States because it turned out he was a malware producer before he went into security.

    So that's one of the reasons why we don't talk an awful lot about what we do in that sense, because for some of it you still have to be secure. You still have to your operational security and make sure that you're not overly compromising your ability to work by talking too much about what you do.

    So you say you've been in less of a developer role lately. As a developer, how do you keep up with like the local dev scene?

    The NI Tech Slack, I'm the admin from there so I keep up a lot with the stuff there. We used to have a load of people on IRC, and then somebody set up the slack and a bunch of people moved over, and then I became the admin for it. We have an admin team now as well, but I tend to be very in touch with what's going on through that.

    Less so now because I've got a couple of young kids but I did a lot of meetups too. I'm still notionally involved in a running the iOS or the NS Belfast meet up, because I started out with a few other people when I was working for ShopKeep. I also tend to keep up with a lot of stuff through Twitter, but meetups are a good way to do it.

    How important have meetups been for the industry here, do you think?

    I think they're core to what's happening now because if you look a lot of the new companies that are setting up, they've got offices and they've got like a space for meetups in the office. Puppet's probably one of the major examples where they put this big area with a screen and stuff in.

    Even when I was at ShopKeep we were thinking about how we were going to host meetups somewhere and what kind of space we'd need. Flexera have a good space for events, and I think Bazaarvoice now in their new office. It's become a big priority for companies that you have to have this sort of social interaction. I think what I'd love to see a lot of the companies doing is donating a little bit of our time to doing things.

    There definitely seems to be a large investment right now in the office market, and every month you hear about another major office redevelopment or a large American company setting up offices here.

    Yeah, and it still doesn't seem like there's enough space. There's a lot of old office buildings about with traditional spaces, like maybe a solicitor's office where everybody has their own room, which doesn't seem to go well with the tech industry.

    So how did you personally get involved with NI Dev Conf?

    So I remember whenever NI Dev Conf was originally floated as idea because it came through the NI Tech Slack. A few people had said, "let's have our own conference" and I could see it starting to pull together. Then the folks hosted this kickoff thing down near the waterfront to talk about what they were planning to do and then later on that year they held the conference itself.

    At that point, I wanted to do it just because I like to be involved in stuff but I didn't have the technical capacity to do the actual organization. They asked for volunteers to do either stuff on the day around helping people to from rooms, or MCing in the room. So I did some of the speaker introductions on the first year in the room, and I really enjoyed that and did it again last year.

    Anomali decided to become a platinum sponsor of the conference this year, so NI Dev Conf is a big deal for you this year?

    It is, it's a big deal. We were talking earlier about trying to get more visibility of Anomali. We're at the point where we're having to compete for almost mindshare. A lot of people who are looking for engineers are are doing the same thing and we figured that was a good way to do it. But for my perspective, it meant that I was able to help the conference, and I was able to get our company to help the conference.

    I think that NI Dev Conf, the whole concept of it is great. In reality, a lot of the people who go there know each other already, so it's almost like the meetup of meetups. But then there are lots of other people who maybe won't go to meetups very often, but they can justify going to a conference.

    I wanted our company to to be able to be a part of that wider community. As a company, we've sponsored BSides Belfast and that's great because we're a security company and that's a security focused conference. But in the end, security is what we do but we write software. A lot of us are developers who have a security focus, so I thought it was important for us to also have involvement in a developer conference. Having NI Dev Conf nearby is just perfect.

    If you could give one message to everyone in the NI dev scene, what would it be?

    Just that I'm only one person within my team. They're the team that I belong to, and I just happened to have the management role within the team. Anomali is a wider team as well, and we've got an entire engineering organisation that we've built up. I think it's important for people to remember that software is not usually written by individuals, it's usually written by teams and we're all part of it. It's not just about the the individuals it's about the team.

    Thanks for your time, Maurice!


    Find out more about Anomali at https://www.anomali.com and follow them on Twitter at @Anomali.
    For more information on NI Dev Conf, head over to https://www.nidevconf.com/ and follow @NIDevConf on Twitter.

    About the author

    Brendan is a Sync NI writer with a special interest in the gaming sector, programming, emerging technology, and physics. To connect with Brendan, feel free to send him an email or follow him on Twitter.

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