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The Nominees for the 2023 Cybersecurity Defender of the Year Award in EMEA

Cybersecurity professionals are often perceived as sole practitioners, plying their craft in dimly lit rooms. Nothing could be further from the truth, as one of the keys to being a successful cybersecurity professional is the ability to collaborate and, more importantly, to share knowledge as far and wide as possible.

At Cisco, we have formed the Cisco Insider Advocacy program, which consists of a global community of professionals passionate about working and spreading their knowledge with others. We celebrate these individuals’ efforts with annual awards in various disciplines and locales. In 2023, Cisco will recognize top advocates by region for the Global Advocate Awards. Our first event – highlighting Cisco customers from across the EMEA region – is around the corner. It all happens at Cisco Live in Amsterdam, in a live ceremony on February 8!

I am joined on the Advocate Awards judges’ panel by my colleagues, Cindy Valladares, Director of Brand Strategy and Customer Advocacy at Cisco Secure, Caroline Surujpaul, EMEA and European Marketing Director at Cisco Secure and Sarah Stephens, Senior Security Marketing Leader for EMEA at Cisco Secure. We are pleased to introduce the nominees for the Cybersecurity Defender of the Year Award in EMEA.

We have five distinguished nominees, and while we have yet to select a winner, you will see how each of their contributions to Cisco’s cybersecurity community raised our attention.

Nominees for 2023 EMEA Cybersecurity Defender of the Year

Alessandro Braga  – CDO, Talent Garden

Alessandro was featured in a recent successful case study about the Future of Work with Umbrella, as well as an earlier piece about simplified security using Cisco Meraki in Talent Garden.

Alessandro also authored a book about digital transformation long before it was a common buzzword. That is typical of Alessandro’s foresight, the ability to be proactive to changes before they are commonplace. He is indeed on the cutting edge.

Alessandro considers his involvement in the Advocacy community as “a very easy goal for me. First, because I’m very passionate about cybersecurity, and second because here I can find very valuable peers and professionals to share information with.” Alessandro’s abilities are borne from passion, drive, and adherence to a personal code of excellence; he learned security in a strictly hands-on style. He is also a member of Cisco’s “League of Cybersecurity Heroes.”

Christoffer Vargtass Hallstensen – Head of SOC, Norwegian University of Science and Technology

Christoffer, the newest Cisco Insider Advocacy community member, has gotten off to a brisk involvement with the group. He was recently featured in the case study “NTNU Supports a Diverse Academic and Research Community with Proactive Security,” which detailed how the Norwegian University of Science and Technology tackled the management of a dizzying 110,000 endpoints connecting to the university’s VPN.

Christoffer fully embraces the ideology of collaboration, mentioning that when he was seeking a security solution, “We didn’t want a vendor. We didn’t want a product. We wanted a partner to help us attack this large problem of cybersecurity.”  He also demonstrates a fervent dedication to sharing by authoring half a dozen works in the cybersecurity realm, ranging from scientific to academic articles. His involvement in the Insider Advocacy community has earned him a spot in Cisco’s “League of Cybersecurity Heroes.”

Mark Healey – Senior Cyber Security Engineer, South Yorkshire Police

Mark is one of the most erudite cybersecurity professionals one could meet. He has extensive educational credentials and enjoys sharing his knowledge, making him one of the Top 10 most engaged advocates of the Cybersecurity Channel within the Cisco Insider Advocates community.

Mark’s professional involvement extends beyond his local precinct, offering his knowledge of security best practices across the UK Policing community. In completing his most recent university degree, he authored a dissertation that “has led to an initiative to improve the security posture of my workplace.” Mark’s support to other Cisco customers has also led to his election as Vice-Chair of the Internet Society Cybersecurity Special Interest Group. He is also a member of Cisco’s “League of Cybersecurity Heroes.”

Luigi Vassallo – COO & CTO, Sara Assicurazioni

Luigi is a valuable member of the Insider Advocacy group and was recently featured in a video and written success story about Zero Trust and XDR.

Luigi is an agent of change who embraces the collaborative spirit of a true cybersecurity expert, as exemplified in his entire professional approach: “Since the infrastructure is now cloud-based, we had to change our mindset regarding cybersecurity as well. It was important to have the people, the process, the organisation, and the technology under the same security umbrella.”

When not working to ensure the security of the Sara Assicurazioni environment, Luigi has dedicated time to speaking at events, such as the “Experts Learning from Experts” global virtual session, a special virtual roundtable dedicated to Zero Trust and, last but not least, his presentation at Cisco Live Emea in Amsterdam about XDR and Zero Trust. His contributions to the Insider Advocacy platform reflect a tireless commitment to the cybersecurity community. Luigi is also a member of Cisco’s “League of Cybersecurity Heroes.”

Diego Zengin – Global CTO, Grupo Cosentino

Last year, Diego participated as speaker at the Tech Forum: Convergencia entre redes y seguridad. He will also be featured in a future ThreatWise TV – Cisco episode

Diego recognised early on that remote work would place his organisation outside the scope of their security and took proactive measures to meet the challenge. Part of his proactive approach is to freely communicate his ideas, leading to his involvement in the Insider Advocacy community. This has also earned him a place within Cisco’s “League of Cybersecurity Heroes.”

Diego’s view of working with Cisco’s products is summed up in a catchy phrase: “If it’s connected, it’s protected.” His involvement within the Insider Advocacy community makes us echo that sentiment by stating that he is connected, helping to keep everyone protected.

Supporting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

One point of note is the absence of women from the list of nominees. This was not the result of bias, as Cisco has a history of substantial diversity, equity, and inclusion.  As you can see from the activities of the current nominees, the selection was based strictly on contributions to the community. We would love to see more engagement and membership in the Insider Advocacy program, not only from women but from a broader geographic area. This would increase the choices of possible nominees and add an even wider palette of inclusion to the entire nomination process.

We know that there is an entire population of cybersecurity professionals who seek more connection with like-minded individuals, and we welcome you to join this cohesive community.

Join Cisco’s most strategic, forward-thinking customer and partner advocates so
we can feature your story of passion and commitment on our next nomination list!

Cisco Insider Advocacy


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