Member of Adelphi University’s 10 Under 10
Senior Manager of the Threat Research Center at WhiteHat Security
When Matt Johansen ’08 was a freshman at Adelphi, Twitter didn’t exist. Today he works at WhiteHat Security, an industry leader in information security and website risk management. He says he owes his career to the connections the social media outlet allowed him to make.
“I was a junior at Adelphi when Twitter first came out. I joined it but didn’t really see the point at first. Then I started finding people in the computer science industry I was interested in.” He recalled one particular afternoon, sitting at his computer in his room in Chapman Hall, getting involved in a conversation with the heads of privacy and risk at Verizon and PayPal. “I was watching conversations people would pay to be a part of.” he said. “I would interject a question, and they would actually answer me.”
Right after graduating from Adelphi, he traveled to Washington, D.C. to attend a conference where he met the same high profile security specialists he had connected with on Twitter. The following summer, he did the same thing, this time at a conference in Las Vegas. Those networking opportunities helped him land consulting jobs doing security assessments of companies, which led him to WhiteHat Security.
“If it weren’t for social media and those conferences, I think I’d still be on Long Island and only know of the company I’m working for.” Instead, in 2010, Johansen moved from New York to California for an entry level position at WhiteHat. Within a year at the company, Johansen ascended the ranks to supervisor, leading a team doing web application penetration testing—the job he was hired for just months earlier.
Today, he is a senior manager of the Threat Research Center at WhiteHat Security, leading a team of application security specialists, engineers and supervisors to prevent website security attacks and protect companies’ and their customers’ data. “We find flaws in websites so we can identify them before a bad guy does,” he said.
Clients of WhiteHat include major retail sites, social networks, big banks, and insurance providers. “eBay has been a client of ours since 2003,” he said. “Pretty much any company whose website you’ve been to, I guarantee of that handful, we have a number of them as clients.”
When WhiteHat decided to open its first satellite office in 2012, it was Johansen they asked to move to Texas to start the Houston office for them. “I was employee zero down here,” he said. “We’ve hired 51 people for this office in just over two years. That’s the size the entire company was when I started in 2010.”
Demand for WhiteHat’s services continues to grow. When Johansen was hired, WhiteHat protected 2,000 websites. In 2014, they are testing 35,000 sites. “We’ve blown up,” he said. “It’s been a crazy ride.”
In addition to working in computer security, the field he wanted a career in since he was a high school student, his role at WhiteHat has allowed him to do things and see places he wouldn’t have the opportunity to otherwise. Since joining WhiteHat, he has been a frequent speaker at a number of industry events that have taken him to locations across the country and around the world.
He was just 23 years old when he spoke at his first-ever conference. “I was under six months working at WhiteHat. I found a bug in Google Chrome, and I got to go present research at the major hacking security conference Black Hat USA.” Black Hat’s speaker selection is a highly selective process. “I’ve spoken at Black Hat twice and those have been two of the defining moments of my career,” said Johansen of speaking in front of the tens of thousands of people who attend.
His expertise has been requested at DEF CON, South by Southwest, Hacker Halted, the FBI’s International Conference on Cyber Security, in locations from New York to Los Angeles to Miami to Toronto. In summer 2014 he traveled to Dublin, Ireland to present research.
He credits the leadership skills he acquired at Adelphi with preparing him for public speaking. At Adelphi he was a Resident Assistant in Chapman Hall for three years. (He met his now wife, Brittany Addeo ’08, through RA training.) One of the first members of Kappa Sigma Fraternity, he served as the vice president for two consecutive years. He was also an orientation leader, headed the club One Night Stand, and worked in IT all of his years at Adelphi, providing technical support across campus as a resident computing assistant.
“Everything you learn in the classroom is priceless in terms of laying a foundation,” said Johansen, who was a computer science major at Adelphi. “But as far as taking the next step, building my leadership and networking skills through my involvement at Adelphi was what set me apart when I was looking for a job.”
In 2013 Marble Security created a Twitter list of 100 must-follow security experts. Johansen, who provides information about security trends and news on his twitter account, made this list. You can follow him @mattjay.