You might say that John Whiting is a self-made Chief Security Officer. He didn’t start out to pursue any sort of information security career, or even an IT career. Whiting went to John Jay College, part of City University of New York, for a pre-law program. He graduated with a degree in Legal Studies.
During his college years, he sold IBM personal computers, and that got him interested in technology. After graduation, he took a teaching job but continued to pursue his interest in computers through self-study. He eventually landed a job as a network manager for a non-profit organization. He studied and attained the requisite Microsoft and Novell certifications that were deemed essential learning at the time.
His hands-on work and continued study earned him progressively increasing IT roles with various non-profit organizations. He eventually rose to the position of Director of Management Information Systems for the largest non-secular childcare agency in the country.
By that time, Y2K was looming and Whiting began consulting with various companies in the areas of computer security and compliance. His consulting work lasted for several years, giving him experience in a variety of IT areas. He managed portions of Project Connect for the New York City Board of Education, which was the initial effort to bring Internet connectivity to the schools. “I worked on the web filtering and compliance aspect of the project, which controlled what content could be filtered down to the schools,” says Whiting.
From there he went to Publishers Clearing House (PCH) as a network and information security manager. PCH is a very large marketing company that processes as much data as the U.S. Census Bureau. Whiting gained extensive experience with information security during his time at PCH.
His next role was at the dot com company Inform Technologies, which provided a website taxonomy for news conglomerates like Turner and Fox. Whiting was responsible for the secure operation of several thousand servers. “Inform was a critical and pivotal job for me, both from a responsibility point of view and from a landscape point of view,” says Whiting. “It was my first executive-level role in IT operations and security.”
Following several consulting and contractor roles, Whiting became the Business Information Security Officer over Global Functions and Human Resources at AIG. This gave him his first truly global leadership role, where he was responsible for supporting all corporate functions in more than 150 countries around the world. He held that job for four years before moving on to his present position as the Global Chief Security Officer for DDB Worldwide, one of the world’s largest advertising holding companies.
DDB brought Whiting on as the company’s first CISO to build out a cybersecurity program. He transitioned into the CSO position when he assumed responsibility for privacy and physical security controls. He oversees security for 15,000 users in hundreds of locations around the globe. He loves his job and has notched numerous accomplishments since taking the security reins at DDB a few years ago.
Whiting has reached what many consider to be a pinnacle position in his career without having a map for how to get there. “There was really no blueprint to follow because the CISO and security roles were kind of new. I didn’t really have mentors as I moved through my career,” says Whiting. “What I did was look strategically at what was coming down the pipeline and I tried to position myself for that, whether that was through vendor or agnostic training and certifications, or through attendance at key conferences and participation in organizations like ISACA.”
Whiting lives in the greater New York City area. As a side business, he does automotive locksmithing—making keys and programming keys for cars. “It started as a hobby when I owned a car dealership, but then it transitioned into being an actual part-time business,” says Whiting. “Making these sophisticated keys is relative to what I do in the daytime [as a CSO] because all of the car manufacturers use encryption to actually program their keys. So, there are some synergies there between the encryption and the type of standards and programming car keys and working in this business that makes it kind of interesting for me.”
His interest in encryption carries over to his newest hobby: investing in cryptocurrencies. “I’ve only been investing for a few weeks, but I’ve been studying this market for a while. I’m very interested in the cryptology behind currencies like bitcoin. Bitcoin has no value unless people give it a value. The current fluctuation in the market is really intriguing to me,” says Whiting. “People in countries with fallen economies like Argentina and Venezuela are leaning towards the cryptocurrencies over their non-stabilized fiat for their countries. I find it all so fascinating.” Whiting says his investments haven’t made him rich yet, but that’s always a possibility!
Whiting is a member of the board of directors for the non-profit Erika Roman Memorial Foundation. “She was a friend who was a radio morning show host in Orlando and who was killed in a car accident,” he says. “Erika was raised in a foster home and she achieved amazing things in her life. In her honor and memory, we raise about a $100,000 a year and give it back to foster kids, to give them a nurturing environment and to inspire them to achieve their goals. We also donate funds to the American Cancer Society.”
When he’s not working his day job or his side business, Whiting enjoys traveling. He has traveled all over Europe and lately he has been making the rounds of various Central American countries.