Leadership, Security Staff Acquisition & Development

CISO: Infosec experience helped me strategically coordinate Ukraine rescue 

An abandoned vehicle
A view of a destroyed civilian evacuation car on March 31, 2022, in Stoyanka, Ukraine. (Photo by Anastasia Vlasova/Getty Images)

Tech CISO Andrew Smeaton was on vacation last February when he heard the news that Russia had invaded Ukraine. Compelled to take action, Smeaton flew to Poland, where he set up an operations center to help safely usher his colleagues — who were working at his company’s offices in Kyiv — across the border.

Upon hearing that one particular individual and his family were struggling to make it out, Smeaton made the impromptu decision to acquire a vehicle, drive into Ukrainian territory and rescue the stranded party — despite the threat of a possible Russian military attack at any time.

Prior to presenting at CyberRisk Alliance’s 2022 InfoSec World conference, Smeaton told SC Media in an interview that his past experience as a security professional — planning for and responding to threats or crises — came in quite handy throughout the operation.

Regarding the mission, “there were a lot of [infosec] skills that made it successful,” said Smeaton. “We did meticulous… communications planning. We supplied satellite phones, we did testing for satellite phones, we tested for different scenarios. And then on the day itself, [knowing to take] the back roads — don’t go through the main supply routes. There were so many things I look back and it was just second nature,” as a CISO.

Other key lessons gleaned from being a CISO included procuring resources as soon as possible before critical supplies ran low, and keeping your emotions in check, despite the gut-wrenching scenes unfolding in Ukraine. Even in profiling his own team members, “I knew which ones… could really help me in a situation like this and which of the people are going to be too emotional and not really going be able to help,” Smeaton said.

To hear more about Smeaton’s riveting, white-knuckle rescue mission in Ukraine, watch the embedded video below.

Additionally, Smeaton is encouraging everyone to find a way to help suffering Ukrainians as the conflict continues.

“There are a tremendous amount of… really good charities,” said Smeaton, encouraging donations. “A lot of these refugees have flooded into Poland and to Ireland and America, and if you can help in any way whatsoever and bring families in — or offer a room, or offer a dinner, or offer some friendship, or give…money,” that could truly make a positive impact on these individuals whose lives have been turned upside-down.

In the early days of the exodus operation, “I said to everyone who was helping me, ‘We’re not going to fix this. We can’t fix the tremendous destruction that Russia has done. But what we can do is just give a little sliver of light… that will make a big difference in people lives,’” said Smeaton. “So my ask is, if you can help in any way, just give people a little bit of light, a little bit of hope.”

Bradley Barth

As director of multimedia content strategy at CyberRisk Alliance, Bradley Barth develops content for online conferences, webcasts, podcasts video/multimedia projects — often serving as moderator or host. For nearly six years, he wrote and reported for SC Media as deputy editor and, before that, senior reporter. He was previously a program executive with the tech-focused PR firm Voxus. Past journalistic experience includes stints as business editor at Executive Technology, a staff writer at New York Sportscene and a freelance journalist covering travel and entertainment. In his spare time, Bradley also writes screenplays.

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