30 Dec Cybersecurity CMO Has A Passion For Numbers, Data, And Technology
Gily Netzer is expert at juggling motherhood and marketing breach simulation
– Di Freeze, Managing Editor
Northport, N.Y. – Dec. 30, 2020
Making the world and people’s lives safer is something Gily Netzer is used to doing. She did it when she served in the Israel Defense Forces, and later when she joined the workforce.
“I spent most of my career in cybersecurity before it was even called cyber,” she said. “It was not a proper decision, but by chance. My life took me down this path and I don’t regret it. I feel fortunate.”
Netzer, the chief marketing officer (CMO) of Cymulate who has had marketing leadership roles in startups and large brands including Symantec, is discussing her life from her home in the countryside in Israel where she “works around the clock, as this is how the cyber and startup space is,” while also being a proud mother to “three amazing boys, a dog and two cats.”
Working around the clock while being a devoted parent requires discipline, but that’s not a problem for Netzer.
“Discipline is something I feel I was born with, perhaps too much,” she said.
You could say she inherited that from both her parents. Her mom worked in one of the top two banks in Israel for her entire career, and her father, who passed away three years ago, worked all his life in the Ministry of Defense.
“They both worked very hard to provide for the family and built everything we had on their own,” she said. “They always taught us to not give up, do the best we can, make all the efforts to keep all our options open. They wanted us to work hard to maximize our potential.”
Netzer described her father as “gifted with a true combination of a technological mind with passion for creativity.”
“He was a carpenter and built all the furniture in our house, he was an expert in electronics and fixed anything that did not work, he was a painter and great cook,” she said.
With that combination, it’s easy to see how Netzer gets her love for numbers, data, and technology, while still being an innovative and creative person who is also “very scientific.”
Netzer has two siblings, a twin and a younger sister. With no brothers, she always found herself “climbing the ladder, wiring stuff, with a hammer in my hand and a nail between my teeth, helping my father build, cook, fix, paint, etc.”
When Netzer was 14, they relocated to New York for her father’s work, leaving behind friends and extended family. With preliminary English, Netzer and her “other half,” her identical twin sister, began attending a private school.
“It was a school that the kids of the diplomats used to attend,” she said. “With two very active lobes in my brain, I enjoyed the combination of studying physics, chemistry and math, but also arts like dancing and painting.”
They were able to skip the tenth grade and graduated high school in just three years.
“In parallel, we went to Sunday School in order to be ready for the Israeli final exams that would allow us to attend the university when we got back home,” she said. “We worked hard to excel in both schools.”
The family moved back to Israel when Netzer was 17 and she started her BA. When she was 18, she took a break to enter the Israel Defense Forces.
“IDF is something that everybody goes through here in Israel,” she explained.
Netzer entered the Air Force. Her dream was to be a pilot, but that wasn’t possible.
“At that time, women were not allowed to be a pilot,” she said. “I did the closest thing possible. I served in an F-15 squadron in the operations room and had to multitask many different things.”
She laughs and says that she was mainly surrounded by men all the time, which was a “pre” of things to come.
“It was an elite unit, very high level and high profile,” she said. “It was an amazing experience. I was very happy to serve my country.”
Netzer served her three years and then continued her education. Despite her passion for scientific subjects, she decided to do her MBA in marketing.
Since then, Netzer has been a marketing manager for several companies, including Elbit Systems, an Israel-based international defense company; Finjan Software; and SanDisk. She was with Symantec from 2009 – 2017, as marketing director emerging region, EMEA.
While at Symantec, Netzer experienced the challenges that other mothers have known — crazy hours, multiple flights, juggling between motherhood and professional life. This did not stop her from taking on more. Amid thinking and living security, being a mom sprouted its own ideas and Netzer came up with an idea for a startup for the consumer healthcare industry, an IoT device related to breastfeeding apparatus.
“I had this idea in my mind for five years before I did something with it,” she said. “I was working and juggling the kids without much time but still managed to get together with a couple of partners, do some research, write a business plan, get funding, write patents, work on a prototype with my partners, and all in parallel to being a mom, working full time.”
Although they raised seed money, they were unable to raise an A round to fund production and business development.
“I had to prioritize my efforts while taking care of my family,” Netzer said. “I had to let it go. It was upsetting, as I did feel it was my ‘baby,’ and I do believe it’s a solution very much in need. After all, half of the world’s population gives birth; breastfeeding along with green trends is growing, but many women are struggling with it. For me, this device should have been on the must-have pre-birth list of any pregnant woman.”
After eight years, Netzer left Symantec and joined Team8’s first cyber startup, Illusive Networks, as VP of marketing in early 2017. She became Cymulate’s CMO in February 2019.
At Cymulate, Netzer is happy to be a marketing strategist for the company’s SaaS-based breach and attack simulation platform. She explains that the average enterprise has a few dozen security solutions and that Cymulate offers a simple solution for continuous security validation that helps the security professionals optimize their security posture, close security gaps, and make sure they are protected from immediate threats across the kill chain, mapped to MITRE ATT&CK framework.
“We enable security teams to automate security assessment,” she said. “It’s not a one-time thing. It’s not an external penetration testing you do twice a year. It’s something that can be done continuously. It’s really easy to deploy and use within minutes. Simplicity equals security. If it’s not simply, it will not be deployed. If it’s simple, then you are secure.”
When asked why she chose Cymulate, Netzer talked about the customers’ challenges.
“Security executives lack data-driven visibility and KPIs into their security performance to plan and allocate resources effectively,” she said. “Security teams lack automated tools that identify where they are most vulnerable and to validate and optimize their defenses against new threats that emerge daily. Cymulate solves these problems.
Netzer uses COVID-19 as a specific example of the importance of the platform.
“Our customers were able to validate very quickly how secure working from home is,” she said, adding that they’ve seen an increase in the usability of their platform in the last six months.”
“When people are at home, they use digital tools, they don’t meet in meetings,” she said. “There are also some things that people will cherish, rather it’s the work-life balance and the ability for people to focus and dedicate time that maybe was slipping away when they were at the company, in the headquarters. When they are sitting at home, working from home, you manage yourself in a different way. People find more time to get things straight.”
Netzer said her passion is to communicate B2B marketing in a B2H (business to human) strategy that helps people ‘get’ things through experience marketing. She’s done that by leading projects such as the themed conferences all “dressed up” to align the customer needs to the product offering via a theme, Capture the Flag games and ABM campaigns. She’s also eager to help and promote women in tech and recently participated in a panel in the Wonder Women Tech virtual conference.
In 2020, Netzer started serving as an advisory board member to cyber startups and writing in a number of publications about cyber and marketing, including Cybercrime Magazine, Forbes, IT Toolbox, and Help Net Security.
Netzer recalled that throughout her career, she often found herself surrounded by older people, mostly men. That made her even more determined to be “better, stronger, and smarter.”
“I did it,” she said. “It was not easy. It’s a constant challenge.”
In a space where she was accustomed to being surrounded by men, however, one woman at Symantec inspired her.
“I had a very strong CMO,” she said. “She was really an inspiration for me. She had a very motivational attitude and was an amazing professional. She’s now a three-time CEO in the U.S.”
Netzer said that as her career developed, she saw more and more women stepping into the cyber industry in general and into some leadership positions.
“There are more women in technology companies, more women in technological positions, more women in cyber — and women are finally allowed to fly in the IDF!” she said, adding that she wishes she could go back in time and do it.
Still, she says there is plenty of room to increase the diversity in cyber and technology in general and she believes that any woman who has a passion for technology and for security should “totally go for it.”
– Di Freeze is Managing Editor at Cybersecurity Ventures.