Mary Prabha Ng, Managing director, CISO office, AXA Equitable
Mary Prabha Ng, Managing director, CISO office, AXA Equitable

It could be said that Mary Prabha Ng literally worked her way up in the cybersecurity world from the bottom, or at least deep underneath, the ocean.

Well, not literally, but Ng, who now holds down the position of managing director, chief information security officer for the life insurance firm AXA Equitable, started her career in security as a computer engineer for the Department of Defense's Undersea Warfare Center where she led several multi-million dollar government projects through various states of project development. Coordinate network, security, and communication defense teams. Here she prototyped advanced concepts including development and design of secure communications components (cryptographic controls, sonar, digital signal processing) for the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, Tactical Unmanned Undersea Vehicles division.

Not exactly a conventional starting point for many CISOs, but it worked for Ng.

And while Ng has a firm hand on the technology involved with a strong cybersecurity defense, she realizes it's the human factor that makes a difference.

“Much too often, cybersecurity can get lost in technical jargon. Ultimately, it is the people that keep our environment secure- they are our first line of defense,” she says.

Ng has also pursued helping the human side of the industry by spending a year as a SANS Mentor and Instructor for the GIAC Certified Incident Handler and GIAC Systems and Network Auditor courses.

The importance Ng places on people is evident in the praise she has received from her former colleagues over the years who called her “wonderful” and “excellent colleague.”

While she was mentoring Ng left the DoD and moved into the well-grounded world of academia as an information security technology analyst at Princeton University where she was responsible for evaluation and installation of security technologies, networking upgrades of the network intrusion prevention systems and she established a campus-wide information security infrastructure and conducted electronic data discovery, internet and email investigations, and system and information recovery.

“I suggest introducing the concept of security at a young age and have cyber programs more readily available in higher education,” says Ng. “I have brought my son, who was six at the time and my niece to ‘hacking' conferences so they could learn and tinker with various tools that would begin exposing them to the technology and security field.”

She also suggests promising “an accurate perception of the cybersecurity field, by focusing on passion and why people are driven to the security space to begin with.”

Ng also had stints at Credit Suisse, at Macquarie IT is an Australian technology company before landing at AXA.