Interview with Joe Sullivan, CSO at Facebook
by Zeljka Zorz - Monday, 27 February 2012.
Joe Sullivan is the Chief Security Officer at Facebook, where he manages a small part of a company-wide effort to ensure a safe internet experience for Facebook users. He and the Facebook Security Team work internally to develop and promote high product security standards, partner externally to promote safe internet practices, and coordinate internal investigations with outside law enforcement agencies.

Being the CSO of Facebook certainly puts you into the spotlight. How have your prior positions prepared you for your work at Facebook?

I can think of two important ways my prior positions have helped prepare me for my current responsibilities. Before Facebook I worked as a federal prosecutor working on cybercrime cases that were in the media every day and then worked at eBay during the early part of the 2000s when that company was celebrated and scrutinized, . In both of those places I was challenged to develop creative solutions - because we were breaking new ground in areas where there was not much precedent. Likewise, in both I learned how to stay effective and focused even when under a serious microscope. Both skills, the ability to develop creative solutions to new and unique problems, and the ability to stay focused on addressing real risks and threats while under great scrutiny, are critically important for succeeding in my role at Facebook.

Facebook has partnered with the National Cyber Security Alliance on the STOP. THINK. CONNECT. campaign over two years ago. What are your thoughts about how public-awareness-raising campaigns can be improved in the future?

If you look at internet education safety campaigns before this effort by NCSA, you see a bunch of different parallel efforts focused on the same problems but using different tactics and terminology. This initiative is important because it brings together an incredibly wide spectrum of technology, communication and other companies to work with government on developing unified messaging. Having consistent terminology is critical to education in a complex area and with this effort the sum of our individual efforts working together is much greater than it would be if we invested the same in education but without this degree of coordination.

Facebook launched its bug bounty program in August last year and has already doled out quite a sum to outside security experts. Have there been any great surprises? Has the program influenced the way that the security team approaches code reviewing? Did you offer employment to a particularly successful bug hunter/are you thinking about doing it?

The program has been successful beyond our expectations. First, it really blew up the assumption that there are only a small number of quality researchers able and willing to report meaningful bugs. On the contrary, we have found that there is an incredibly vibrant entrepreneurial security community around the world that is passionate about engaging on web application security.

We have had submissions from over 16 countries and have already payed out over $150, 000 in bounties. In the process we have built great relationships with some amazing researchers from every corner of the globe. And yes, we do have a summer intern coming who we met through the program.

I don't think it has influenced the way we review code, but it does make us feel even better about the overall review process we have in place being as complete as possible. We intend to keep investing in this program and are always looking for feedback on how to make it better.

Our latest iteration was to add a debit card as a payment option so that we can reload easily for people who submit bugs regularly.

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