As former long-standing members of the Irish Army, Pat Larkin and Paul Hogan are well-versed in the art of security. Now the CEO and CTO of Ward Solutions respectively, the duo first cut their teeth in technology during their tenure in the Army, where they set up the organisation’s inaugural IT system.
With a firm focus on providing the full life-cycle of information security to a roster of blue-chip clients in Ward Solutions, Pat says of their background: “I worked in artillery first and then four or five of us were tasked to go and do IT as they were setting up an IT unit in the army. We went to DCU to do an IT degree and from there, we worked on setting up the system.”
“It was all about building an IT unit from scratch, both at a network level, and in staffing this by recruiting soldiers and training them to be network operators. It was literally building an IT network and unit, so it was an incredible experience.”
“Along with establishing the infrastructure, we set up networks to make sure they were secure from subversive threats, from public leakage, and secure if deployed on an UN mission. Through this, we had a lot of experience in IT, in data security and then obviously from our military background in security in general.”
Founding Ward Solutions
Prompted to make the move into business in 2000, the company has offices in Belfast and Ennis, along with its impressive head-quarters in Dublin’s Citywest.
With expansion plans announced last year, the company are focused on being the best in their field.
Pat says: “We describe ourselves as a full cyber security lifecycle provider. While lots of organisations focus on one aspect of information security, our view is a holistic one – where we provide information security from birth to death. You’re trying to protect the data that companies have, the services they deliver, their brand, revenue, insurance and people, so that they can remain in business.”
“When you look at high-profile breaches, organisations suffer phenomenal cost from the initial issue and then subsequent damage as well. Our argument is if you put in place and operate strong holistic security management system security, you can significantly reduce the chances of a damaging security incident happening up front, and you can also reduce the amount of damage that can happen if a breach does subsequently happen.”
World Class Innovation
As part of the vibrant tech scene here in Ireland, Pat is a key advocate for the quality of work produced. He says: “I have a personal mission in that I think we can make Ireland the cyber security capital in Europe. If you look at the whole island, there’s an incredible raft of major security brands and innovation happening here. IBM have their major security centre here – as do companies like Intel Security, Aruba and HP – so there are a huge amount of major hardware and software vendors from a security sector that have operations based here. There’s also major security research centres in Universities here in Dublin, a number of Institutes of Technologies around the country and in Universities in Belfast, so there is a whole island dimension or opportunity to this as well.”
Challenging Work for Tech Experts
As full information security providers, the company have recruited a diverse set of skilled tech experts, from consultants to penetration testers, to meet clients’ needs.
Paul Hogan, CTO, explains: “We’re like a rugby team of information security in that we have very different skill-sets and personalities working here. We’ve consultants, then we have penetration testers who love to test systems and assess their vulnerabilities. Then we have people who love to build and fix problems – they’re our security engineers and developers. The last kind of people we have are people who look after managed services.”
“Finding the right people is a global challenge. But we tend to do quite well, because there are a lot of opportunities to progress here and a lot of innovation happening in Ireland.”
He adds: “We’ve got a name out there for excellence and doing things the right way. When we hire a penetration tester, we have a very rigorous training and mentoring programme. People do leave or move on and the comment that everyone makes is that there are great opportunities to learn and move through different areas here. For instance, we’ve had people come in as penetration testers and move into application developer roles, which is quite unusual.”
Using Tech Skills for Good
An exciting sector, Pat says that the work can offer great satisfaction to skilled experts.
“The ethical hacking – or penetration testing- side is where you have an individual who has the same skills as a hacker, but uses these skills for good. They put themselves in place with the customer’s agreement to assess and test the risks from there. Companies will get a good guy to do what a bad guy might do, see how they might do it, and then assess how they can stop this happening,” he explains.
“It’s quite exciting because it’s ethical clandestine activity but it’s done in a very structured and ethical way with the customer’s permission. You then work with the customer to explain how it happened and work with them to strengthen their systems and beat these weaknesses.”