At the age of 36, Brandon Akal has already crammed enough adventures and activities into his time on this earth to add up to what most of us experience in a lifetime. Growing up on a farm in Curry’s Port, a rural district of South Africa, he bought an AMD 100 megahertz processor, plugged it into what he jokingly referred to as his beige box, and was instantly hooked.
As computers started to become a permanent feature in his life, the Linux operating system fascinated him. Here was an open-source platform, with security, stability, customisation and a loyal community of followers. A diploma in IT led to working in IT support, and the precursor to a more serious examination of IT systems. At the same time, the proliferation of dial-up modems in South Africa started raising questions of security in his mind, and this, in turn, fed the need for a deeper inquiry into the infrastructure behind operating systems, IT networks, wireless networks, cloud computing. In short, every aspect of IT.
Fast forward 16 years, a move back to his ancestral homeland of the United Kingdom, and Brandon found himself in an Army Intelligence Team. This involved aspects of strategic intelligence, community-driven intelligence, multi-national agency liaison and cutting-edge threat analysis using advanced IT and communications systems. Brandon said:
“To have served in this capacity has been a huge eye-opener, and saw me fulfil my childhood dreams. It proved, as one would expect, to be a challenging and fluid environment to work in. My role as part of an intelligence team afforded multiple opportunities to help in making the right decisions. I had exposure to numerous international agencies and personalities, and I was among the first to make real use of the threat analysis platform provided to us.”
If the experience of helping to run complex and mission-critical IT systems in a harsh environment had been tough, civilian life for Brandon presented its own set of challenges.
"IT systems are evolving, becoming more complex and as they do, the need for on-time support is vital. Also, if you look at the increased number of cyber threats, it’s clear that any point of vulnerability is fair game to the cyber-criminal."
Brandon’s IT journey eventually led him to Blue Frontier and a dual role of IT security and support:
"Half my job is ensuring the smooth running of Blue Frontier’s and other company’s day to day IT operations, and then the other side of my role involves examining a company for potential flaws and frailties where an attack may be made. This could be ethical hacking, spear phishing (targeted emails with a degree of psychological profiling) and an in-depth analysis of their security policies and procedures. At the end of the process, I write a report advising where a company has a need to bolster its security."
"The satisfaction is immense, because you’re helping a company guard against the potential of real threats. I believe that in order to beat the bad guys, you need to think like one. These guys are doing their homework, learning about every aspect of your business, where the pressure points are, and they are using AI, psychological profiling, phishing, encryption, and for these reasons, we need to help our customers mitigate this by providing a smart and creative approach to their threats."
To highlight the need for greater awareness, Brandon has put together the top 5 IT threats and ranked them in a 5 minute video.
"A few years ago, some of these threats would have been dismissed as just fiction, but now they are real and sophisticated. Companies have already fallen prey to the threats we talk about, so it is worth investing 5 minutes of your time to watch."
In a serendipitous turn of fate, Brandon finds himself sitting next to a colleague who not only went to a rival school of his in South Africa but also grew up in the same rural area as him.
“There is always that old school rivalry banter that pops up every now and then, but we do tend to resolve this, particularly when the Springboks are playing against anyone. The camaraderie, principally in the Technical team, is something that I have only ever experienced in the army. This unique team cohesiveness helps us provide our customers with accurate and efficient solutions to whatever IT issues that may have.”