Women in Digital: Niamh Muldoon

We speak with Niamh Muldoon, senior director of trust and security at OneLogin, about her background, her career and the value of sponsorship – as well as what advice she would give anyone starting out in in information security.

Posted 22 September 2020 by Christine Horton

Did you enjoy school?

Niamh Muldoon, senior director of trust and security at OneLogin

Growing up with four brothers I was a pure tomboy. My parents sent me to an all-girls secondary school, St. Dominics College, so the nuns could put a bit of finesse on me (bless them). One thing the nuns were great at was fostering and instilling the importance of friendships. Over the years, I built some amazing friendships at St. Dominics College. Many of the friends I made there are still my nearest and dearest, and we still laugh and joke about our time there.  

I wasn’t very studious at school until my last year, when I figured out that my education was key to making the world my oyster. I share this because it is important for those who don’t find their passion at school. I only discovered mine (cybersecurity) when I started working, so don’t settle and keep looking out for your passion.  

What qualifications do you have? 

I am an Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) and that is the only accreditation that I actually maintain currently. I was Ireland’s youngest female to qualify as a CISSP back in the day. I have a degree in Economics and Geography, and other post-graduate qualifications in business, technology/computer science.

Has your career path been a smooth transition, a rocky road or combination of both? 

I have been working in information security for over 20 years – it’s been my whole career. I have had many challenges building my career in the field and I am very grateful to have had support from my family and friends, along with sponsorship from leadership to help me get to where I am today. I try my best now to give others the same support that had been afforded to me.  

What’s the best career advice you can give to others? 

Set your career goal but be flexible in your approach. Balance your career goal setting with educational and hands-on delivery experiences. Ensure your career goals focus on the development of technical, business and professional competencies. Remember the industry is constantly growing and opportunities are always presenting themselves, so a comprehensive development plan will enable as well as position you well to go for opportunities as they arrive. There are a variety of ways to reach your career goal, including but not limited to, full and part-time educational options along with on-the-job training via apprenticeship programs. There is no one career path model to fit all and remember the only person you are in competition with to reach your career goal is yourself!  

If you had to pick one mentor who has had the biggest influence on you, who would it be? 

I am fortunate in my career that I am surrounded by strong lady leaders. My mother Violet has been my greatest female influence. She has helped me so much, particularly as a divorcee, lone parent moving my career into leadership. I couldn’t have taken that career jump without her. My mother is my hero and has always been the wind beneath my wings. 

Vanessa Pegueros is the greatest sponsor of my career. I wish we could clone Vanessa Pegueros and all aspiring female lady leaders could have the opportunity to work with Vanessa. She is truly unique and the most inspiring thought leader I have ever worked with. 

Shannon Leighton is someone I call my “unsung hero”, not only is she a great friend, but Shannon helped me so much when I took on my first global role at the former company where we both worked – DocuSign. Shannon helped me set-up the function and my team. She remains my international ambassador across the Atlantic Ocean. 

From where do you draw inspiration? 

My son Crean inspired me every day to work hard and get to where I am today, and he continues to inspire me. My partner Mark doesn’t give me an inch of room for doubt and he is always there to make me laugh, especially on those tough days with his famous saying, “That’s why there aren’t as many female CEOs”. 

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced to date? 

I have had many amazing learning opportunities throughout my life that have helped me grow and develop to the person I am today.   

This may seem very ironic but other women and bad behaviours have been the two obstacles in my career. 

Not all women of course, just some women. I used to think women were harder on other women to help them build resilience to succeed. Unfortunately, I no longer think this is the case. In the age of gender diversity and inclusion, both women and men can behave badly. I say, to build trust with diversity and inclusion, you need to “practice what you preach” with transparency. 

It is for this very reason that I conclude ‘bad behaviours’ are the biggest obstacle that women and men will experience in their careers. The reasons why people behave badly are broad and complex. From my experience, they tend to be fundamentally related to the individual feeling threatened. They can have a detrimental impact on someone’s career if the person can’t see through it and isn’t strong or confident enough to put themselves first in their career. 

What qualities do you feel makes a good leader? 

A leader that cares about their biggest information asset – their people. Leaders put their people and their best interests first. Sponsorship over mentorship is the second biggest quality for an outstanding leader. Sponsorship being the person has enough faith in you that they are willing to put their own career on the line, backing you with opportunities.  

From a work viewpoint what has 2020 been like for you so far? 

Working in the information security industry for the last 20 years you get used to dealing with crisis situations and you build your resilience. In 2020, I have had many opportunities to celebrate significant events with my family and friends – while not all in person, at least we have been able to recognise these events remotely. From a professional life perspective, I am used to working from home – although I am beginning to miss travelling to the USA and hanging out with my team. OneLogin is very agile culturally as well as in mindset, so we have adapted very well and have continued to deliver quality services to our customers during these extraordinary times.  

What would you say are the biggest cybersecurity or digital identity challenges we face today? 

We have seen an increase in technology sprawl during COVID-19 that has led to increased risk to company information assets. Companies and organisations have lost control over where their data is and who has access to it. We are now living with the pandemic and hybrid working model. Business leaders are now realising the associated risks of this technology sprawl. We are seeing an increase in identity and access control projects/programs taking place along with requests for cybersecurity skills to deliver to them. Our observation is mid-market organisations in particular, are striving for operational excellence, addressing this risk by taking advantage of partnering with trusted identity and access control platform providers. 

Cybersecurity threats have increased significantly and always will during times of uncertainty. We are all taken out of our comfort zones, and as a result, it is an ideal time for malicious attackers to target our human response vulnerabilities as we are all learning new ways of working as well as new technology tooling for the first time. Having a simple digital transformation strategy and program, would be beneficial here. A program where business leaders can make informed business decisions on what technology tooling to use as well as present them in a single secure platform for end-users to access. This is the foundation of a successful digital transformation and a requirement to keep businesses moving forward during these times of uncertainty.   

Give us a fact about you that most other people wouldn’t know. 

Not sure what to say ….so some for you to consider:  

I was minded by Jose Mourinho’s bodyguard on my last trip to Israel.  

I found my passion in Information Security from not getting my first career choice of teaching. Now I am teaching every day, educating about information security risks.  

I worked at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) back in 1999, where my interest in technology grew.  

I shaved all my hair-off at the age of 17 to encourage myself to stay home and study for my leaving cert exams for college. 

The first flight I took was at 15 years old to Boston, Massachusetts and I sat in the Emergency Exit row seat (ahhh). 

I worked as part of the security team that investigated the biggest trading fraud in US history. My role was to carry out health checks for business units and make recommendations. 

I fell into a glacial lake when hiking the Franz Josef glacier in New Zealand.