Features

Beau Monday – Punahou School

Head of the cybersecurity class at Punahou School

The need for cybersecurity training ongoing vis-a-vis the growing threats of ransomware, fraud and identity theft, Beau Monday ensures personnel at Punahou School, the largest private K-12 in Hawaii, keep abreast.

But rather than subjecting the 1,300-plus workforce to annual or semiannual seminars on the subject, Monday arranges for monthly micro-trainings that, to his thinking, better ingrains cybersecurity as a part of daily life. Each month he has NINJIO, one of his partners, deliver an online 5-minute animated lesson on its latest security topic.

Beau Monday | Chief Information Security Officer | Punahou School

Beau Monday | Chief Information Security Officer | Punahou School

“The people really enjoy these short training videos,” Monday tells Toggle in August with another academic year soon to begin. “The response has been one of surprise. Most companies might give one big annual hour-long training session that’s dull and boring. This approach has a much more positive outcome.”

The most recent topic was artificial intelligence, with all its potential and liability; Monday says it’s essential for school staff to become comfortable with technology entrusted with human-like thinking. It’s the tech wave of a future that’s looking more and more like the present, he says. Among its other attributes, AI now does much to ensure email security.

Monday having fashioned another partnership with AI specialist Abnormal Security, all emails between the school and its business partners are examined and subtle variations in seemingly regular correspondence are noted and flagged. Schools being among a hacker’s favorite targets, Monday expects all staffers to recognize their responsibility in securing data.

“We’ve been stopping things every day,” Monday reports from the Honolulu campus. “It’s not always ransomware, it’s also the thousands of attacks and phishing expeditions lodged against us. But these new AI-informed countermeasures are proving to be very effective at detecting things that were getting past our traditional filters.”

Cyberdefense never rests

A member of the infotech security team since May 2018, Monday is soon to celebrate his fourth anniversary as Punahou’s chief information security officer. He’s been integral to an IT transition now overseen by Chief Information and Technology Officer Shigehiro Minami, and while Monday can’t discuss cybersecurity in-depth, he can say it’s multi-pronged with technological layers and much emphasis on workforce vigilance.

Monday says the school’s staffers have been trained not to fall for common scams such as gift card offers. Yet some of the school’s suppliers have had their systems breached, which has had hackers trying to reroute invoices. Thus, he says it literally takes a village to secure the sanctity of an education institution’s infotech.

“We’re leveraging the community and making sure everyone is an active participant in our cybersecurity posture,” says Monday, who’s the only full-time security staffer. “I’m focused on shifting the culture and engaging everyone at the school to take a more active role in cybersecurity. You can’t do that by holding once-a-year awareness events. Our employees hear from me several times a month.”

Punahou School being cloud-first in its data management, Monday says that further augments cybersecurity. He’d encourage any entity without a dedicated security operator to explore the cloud and all the better to be like his employer and have both. Then again, he says standards have got to be high at this private K-12 prep school whose alumni include Barack Obama and other notables.

Oklahoma to Oahu

As to how the Seattle area-born Monday came to Punahou, it was after a 2014 to 2018 stretch as information security manager at INTEGRIS Health in Oklahoma City. He had previously lived on the island of Oahu while overseeing info-security for Hawaiian Telcom from 2011 to 2014 and rewarding as Monday found his INTEGRIS role, he and his wife longed to return, especially after the birth of their second grandchild.

Some of Monday’s Telcom colleagues had moved to Punahou and enticed him into accepting his first position with a school. It’s been a much different role than healthcare and telecommunications. At those operations, Monday says he enjoyed larger teams and dedicated resources whereas at Punahou, he’s got to economize.

“This is the first time I’ve had such a large population but such a small team,” he says in reference to the more than 3,750 students enrolled in the school. “Teamwork develops through necessity.”

Beau Monday | Chief Information Security Officer | Punahou School

However, he’s quick to add it’s so satisfying when everybody comes together. Though Monday doesn’t directly oversee the network operations team, he relies on it to handle much of the day-to-day responsibilities for firewall changes. As Monday leverages automation, he says he’s pleasantly surprised to see everyone receptive to the latest that technology has to offer. It should only get more exciting, he says, as Punahou makes more use of AI.

“You might expect a school that’s been around for over 180 years to be somewhat slow to adopt new technologies, but it has been quite the opposite at Punahou,” he says. “In many ways, we’re leading by example as these new technologies are being developed.”

It’s as much about empowerment as education, he goes onto say. Faculty have the means to temporarily permit student-access to websites that are normally blocked without having to engage IT. Using Ground Labs’ Enterprise Recon tool, employees can be notified when they are handling sensitive information and remediate that data via a mechanism of their own choosing.

“When you give people power to make their own decisions, it fosters a sense of ownership and responsibility,” Monday says.

Wired early

Monday’s always found technology intriguing and, in the late 1980s, he interned as a high school student with a company that assembled specialized computers for architect firms just starting to explore computer-aided-design. He figured tech savvy would give him an edge in any career, including accounting, which he studied at State University of New York.

IT, however, won as his career choice and he was doing well at an early position with BSQUARE from the mid-1990s to early 2000s. Then came 9/11, which had Monday mulling how much more he could do.

“That was when I decided to focus my career on cybersecurity,” he recalls. “There seemed to be quite a gap in what most companies did from their cybersecurity postures. It was a relatively new concern and there weren’t many degree programs, just industry certificates.”

Monday learned what he could from any source and moved to AT&T Wireless as a systems engineer in 2002. Two years later, he had his first info-security position, with a then-startup SaaS provider called Click2Learn (which later became SumTotal Systems), and has since stayed on the path.

How enjoyable he says it is to be doing so in Honolulu, the birthplace of his wife. Their three children all grown, the couple shares their home with a dog and enjoy exploring the islands and being outside.

And Monday’s obsession with all things technological seems to be rubbing off on another generation.

“Both my grandbabies are very good with their iPads and Xboxes,” he says.

View this feature in the Fall I 2023 Edition here.

Published on: September 29, 2023

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