“I believe that every person in their career should have our mission statement,” says Christine Vanderpool, vice president of information technology strategy, architecture, and security at Florida Crystals. “My mission statement right now is by Ghandi and it is, ‘The sign of a good leader isn’t how many followers you have but how many leaders you create.’ That’s something I try to emulate every day.”
Creating leaders and innovating to meet cybersecurity demands is just what Vanderpool does in her position at Florida Crystals, the world’s largest producer of raw sugar cane and refined sugar cane. She gained experience as a leader previously while at Kaiser Permanente and as CISO of Molson-Coors. Throughout her time in cybersecurity, she has worked to keep up with the ever-changing environment of technology while lifting others up the ladder along the way.
Calm Amid Crisis
One of the ways in which the field of cybersecurity has changed, according to Vanderpool, is that everyone is a target. Vanderpool says, “We’re definitely seeing the emergence of bad actors that don’t really care what industry you’re in. Anyone can be attacked because anyone who makes any sort of money is, of course, of interest.”
She adds, “It’s not a case of if; it’s a case of when. So you better be prepared, and you better know how you will respond and recover and do it fast and efficiently and stop an attack before it gets out of control.”
Vanderpool also notes that the attacks are no longer sophisticated, but there are more uses of phishing emails and calls. These give hackers the opportunity to infiltrate companies without needing to find any coding errors, and when these attacks proliferate, they’re often very successful. In 2020, according to Vanderpool, billions of dollars of bitcoin were paid out because of situations like these.
Collaboration is imperative as these data breaches start to affect the world outside of the companies that are targeted—especially as so many people moved home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Vanderpool points to an early 2021 cyberattack on JBS, a meatpacking company. As a result, the supply chain was thwarted, the price of meat skyrocketed, and consumers’ lives were impacted.
Staying ahead of the curve on these attacks and ensuring preparedness is something that Vanderpool says is possible through the close-knit cybersecurity community. She notes that only “a relatively small group of people” has been at the senior level in the cybersecurity industry for a long period of time.
“Even if you’re competitors in your particular market, you’ll still see them come together,” Vanderpool says. “All these organizations [like Information Technology-Information Sharing and Analysis Center] within the industry are getting ahead of the game and we’re doing it together, as a collective. It’s camaraderie across the entire discipline.”
The collective cybersecurity community can also innovate because it is growing as more perspectives are entering the field. According to Vanderpool, there has been an uptick in the number of women in cybersecurity.
“There were very few women, especially in chief information security officer roles,” Vanderpool notes, “and we’re seeing a huge increase in the CISOs that are coming about.
“I do think that women bring a certain perspective to the role that has not been seen before,” she adds. “But I think you need all types—all types of diversity, all types of backgrounds—in order to tackle what we have to deal with from a community perspective, because we’re all going to bring different ways of looking at a situation or a problem.”
Building Tomorrow’s Leaders
According to Vanderpool, South Florida’s technical market has grown immensely over the past few years, making her mission to enrich the cybercommunity even more relevant.
“There’s a lot of reports out there that are saying that Miami is going to become the new San Francisco,” Vanderpool says. “So getting ahead of that and making sure we have the right talent in Florida—and giving them the opportunity to grow their expertise and talent—is really important.”
Vanderpool wants to continue to uplift women in the field and encourage more to join. While she serves as a role model inside Florida Crystals, Vanderpool is also committed to volunteering and encouraging women outside the company to enter the field, starting with school-aged girls and young professionals.
“One thing that we have to do a really good job of as CISO professionals is get out in the community and explain what cybersecurity is to young women and girls in elementary, middle school, and high school,” she says.
Vanderpool also sits on the board and the women’s committee of a nonprofit, Tech Hub South Florida, which focuses on growing technical education initiatives and programs in school systems as well as in government and business environments. The goal of the nonprofit is to tap into and expand South Florida’s technology verticals to create sustainable economic impact.
“It’s the way of the future. Technology is embedded in everything that we do nowadays, and almost everything you touch throughout the day has some piece of technology in it,” Vanderpool says. “The amount of devices that are all going to be interconnected is growing exponentially, and the need for more and more IT professionals is just going to continue to grow too.”
Through her position with the nonprofit and as a senior executive at Florida Crystals, Vanderpool is upholding her mission statement. She’s creating leaders that will not only continue to innovate through the changing IT industry but will reflect the future of the workforce.