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Adam Bannister is a contributor to IFSEC Global, having been in the role of Editor from 2014 through to November 2019. Adam also had stints as a journalist at cybersecurity publication, The Daily Swig, and as Managing Editor at Dynamis Online Media Group.
September 27, 2016

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The Video Surveillance Report 2022

Meet Oliver Stone’s go-to cyber consultant: the ethical hacker

Not many cyber security specialists moonlight as advisers to Hollywood directors with the pedigree of Oscar-winning director Oliver Stone.

Developing a secure online ticketing system for the family of Bob Marley and investigating the online leak of an Eminem album, Ralph Echmendia – AKA the ‘ethical hacker’ – has had a more interesting career than most of his counterparts.

In 2011, he was lead technical investigator on the premature leak of scenes from the then unreleased film Twilight: Breaking Dawn.

That was just the beginning in terms of his Hollywood career because a year later Echemendia formed RED-E Digital, a consultancy offering the entertainment industry advice on how to protect pre-released content.

Oliver Stone, director of JFK and Nixon, no less, was among those in the queue for Enchemendia’s services. The ‘ethical hacker’ has been a computer security consultant on two films directed by Stone – Savages and Snowden – and even made cameo appearances as an actor in both. Echemendia has also been a hacking consultant for the film Nerve.

Ralph found time in his busy schedule to field some questions from IFSEC Global about his career in cyber security and Hollywood – read the transcript below.

IFSEC Global: What is the most enjoyable thing about being a cyber security professional?

Ralph Echmendia: To me it’s all about bringing awareness to how technology can be used and misused. The exchange of knowledge is crucial to our evolution. I must say collaborating with great minds in this space is also very enjoyable.

IG: What is the most frustrating thing about being a cyber security professional?

RE: That most of the time nothing really changes. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make the horse drink it. Too often the mistakes we see are things that we experts have been warning about for years.

IG: What is the most common mistake organisations make in dealing with cybercrime?

RE: Thinking too much in terms of security versus resilience. Nothing in life, much less cyberspace, can be absolute.

You cannot have 100% security. To identify a potential breach early enough for it not to affect your operations is or should be the focus. Focusing on preventing the breach is not the idea.

IG: Who is more inept and/or complacent about addressing the cyber threat in general and why – government, big business or small businesses?

RE: Unfortunately, all of the above. While their spending budgets and needs may differ, security is seen as a cost and not a value add. So often decisions are made that have an effect on the risk, not only business but also consumers.

Be more aware, ask questions, don’t be afraid to Google your questions. Don’t be intimidated by technology. You are smarter than a computer. Ralph offers advice on staying vigilant against the hacking threat

IG: Might the government and business sometimes be less blasé about protecting data (if indeed they are) if the general public weren’t so complacent about giving away their personal data?

RE: The issue of the public being complacent is an important one, but not one that really affects the way government and companies do security. Many of them have to follow regulatory compliance requirements, but being compliant to these does not mean ‘secure’.

The impact that all of this data will have on everyone is still not digestible to most. The more we rely on technology, the faster we will feel its effects.

IG: Traditional, non-digital crime has been in general decline across the western world for several decades for many reasons. Can you imagine us ever reaching that point with cybercrime or is that a forlorn hope?

RE: I don’t believe we will see a decline anytime soon. Cybercrime will continue for longer than we can speculate.

IG: What are your prescriptions in a nutshell for improving the prevailing approach to combating cybercrime?

RE: Be more aware, ask questions, don’t be afraid to Google your questions. Don’t be intimidated by technology. You are smarter than a computer.

IG: How did you get into the film industry?

RE: Initially because of my knowledge of music production environments and friendships with artists. When large copyright infringement or major breaches of content would take place, I became the go-to-guy. Not many of us have an understanding of both the logical/operational and creative/artist process.

IG: What are you most proud of in your work in TV and film and why?

RE: I’d have to say it has been my work with Oliver Stone on both Savages and Snowden.

For Snowden, I did much more than secure the digital assets on this film. I was heavily involved in the creative as well, working with great writers like Kieran Fitzgerald and, of course, Mr Stone. Other projects like Nerve and initial input into Mr. Robot were also things I feel blessed to have been a part of.

IG: You have advised on cybercrime for TV and film – have you ever been disappointed with the results? To what extent do they use creative license to exaggerate, downplay or outright invent things to suit the script?

RE: Well, let me say that ultimately, it’s the director’s decision, and it is entertainment. So it does happen.

I most certainly have seen films or TV shows that demonstrate the implausibility of such content. Luckily, not projects I have worked on.

Listen to the IFSEC Insider podcast!

Each month, the IFSEC Insider (formerly IFSEC Global) Security in Focus podcast brings you conversations with leading figures in the physical security industry. Covering everything from risk management principles and building a security culture, to the key trends ahead in tech and initiatives on diversity and inclusivity, the podcast keeps security professionals up to date with the latest hot topics in the sector.

Available online, and on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts, tune in for an easy way to remain up to date on the issues affecting your role.


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