Cybersecurity performance management pioneer Sivan Tehila wants to make CISOs heroes, not scapegoats.

Her company, Onyxia, leverages artificial intelligence to automatically measure risks in a dynamic security landscape and recommend real-time action to address them.

“We’re not looking to replace CISOs. We are looking to make them heroes and not be the first ones blamed if something happens,” she said. “With Onyxia they can make decisions faster and make adjustments.”

Two virtual women inspired Tehila as she set out to build a technology platform to help CISOs grapple with a rapidly changing environment: Alexa and World of Warcraft antagonist Onyxia.

Since her days as a CISO in the Israel Defense Forces, Tehila said, she had a passion to develop a virtual assistant she could query to improve her professional performance.

“I was always dreaming to be able to wake up in the morning, and in the same way as I’m asking Alexa about the weather today, I wanted to have a place where I can go and ask, what are the top three things I should be afraid of today? What are the top three things I should focus on today to get my company a better security posture score and a better security performance score,” she said.

Tehila acted on that dream a year and a half ago when she founded Onyxia. The company is named for a virtual character in human and dragon form from the World of Warcraft online game who adjusts to an evolving environment. 

“That’s basically related to what we’re doing,” she said. “We are helping CISOs stay dynamic and be able to adjust performance based on their needs, evolving external threats and the evolving internal environment,” Tehila said.

The Onyxia solution rests on three components: assessing stack performance through an automated process that is aligned to business and cybersecurity strategy; offering the capacity to measure or justify security solution investments in order to get a sense of return on investment; and automating actionable insights.

The platform is designed to give CISOs all the information they need, whether in the office or on the go.

“It’s not just another dashboard,” Tehila said. “We uniquely have a web platform and a mobile version so a CISO can wake up in the morning, have coffee, and scroll down and be able to get all the insights in their phone,” she said.

“We’re not only looking to be the strategic platform for CISOs to access all the information they need to make decisions, but also to become part of the day-to-day workflow.”

Having been in the CISO’s seat helps her to zero in on pain points.

“When I’m talking to CISOs, they feel I can speak their own language,” she said. “I’m very involved in the product design and development, because I want to make sure it’s really connected to the field and that it solves problems that CISOs are having in their day-to-day jobs.

“Every week we have calls with CISOs from different industries to understand exactly what they need, how we can customize the product and make the interface as easy as possible for them to effectively use.”

The customizability is one of Onyxia’s big advantages, she said. Like any AI or machine learning-driven platform, information develops over time, becoming increasingly accurate.

“CISOs can build it in a way that fits their organization at any time,” she said. “If something changes, they can highlight specific things that matter to them the most.”

In an era of technology consolidation and belt-tightening, the platform is especially relevant, she said. The company has raised $5 million in a seed round led by World Trade Ventures.

Tehila was born and raised in Israel. Like many other Israeli technologists, she started her career in the Israeli military, where she served 10 years as a cybersecurity officer. Her last role there was CISO of the research and analysis division, and head of the information security unit in the intelligence corps, where she guided cybersecurity strategy and specific operations.

“The main thing I got from my experience in the army that helped me build the platform is the need to go back to basics and have a clear strategy,” she said. “When  you have a strategy, you’re not confused, you’re not getting upset or surprised when something happens. You have to stay agile and relevant. Those are concepts we always use in the army, and I probably take those concepts from my experience and apply it here.”

After leaving the army with the rank of captain in 2015, she worked in the civilian defense industry and with critical infrastructure in Israel. Moving to the U.S. four years ago, she embarked on dual careers in the private sector and academia. At cybersecurity unicorn Perimeter 81, she was director of solution architecture. At Yeshiva University in New York, she is now program director of the masters program in cybersecurity.

“I very much enjoy working with students and educating the next generation of cybersecurity professionals,” she said. “I think it should be a mission for any CISO today because there is a huge shortage and gap in cybersecurity talent.”

Tehila is driven to make sure women are part of the cybersecurity talent pool. At Yeshiva,  she launched a mentorship program to promote a young generation of women security professionals.

“I moved here and realized there are not enough women in the field,” she said. “It made me really sad not to see a lot of women applying to the cybersecurity program.”

The goal of the mentorship program, now expanded to include men, was to bring in more women professionals as role models for both men and women, and thereby increase an awareness of the industry among women that will attract them to explore the opportunities it offers, she said.

Tehila also developed a program at the Manhattan High School for Girls to expose young women to technical professions.

“I really felt this was a mission,” she said. “When they get this exposure in high school, they are more likely to study computer science and get a masters degree in cybersecurity. If they don’t have this exposure at a young age, they’re less likely to make this decision before college.“

She advises young professionals to always think a few steps ahead and ask themselves where they want to be a few years from now so they can pursue the right certificates to get there and find the right mentors.

“We can really learn a lot from other people’s experiences and other companies’ journeys,” she said. “We don’t always need to reinvent the wheel.”

In her free time, Tehila paddleboards on the Hudson. Her favorite route is going to the Statue of Liberty, an aspirational symbol for her when she moved to the U.S. and had to prove herself.

She calls this hobby “active meditation.”

“Being on the water is something I enjoy,” she said. “It really helps you disconnect. You can’t have headphones, you really need to focus when you paddle in order to stay on top of the board.”

There are also many things going on in the water, both in terms of marine life and lessons that resonate with her professional life, including the need to be nimble.

“You can have a strategy when you go out on the water. I always check the current and I check the wind and I have a plan. But when you are in the water, things are changing, things are evolving. I’m practicing for the real world, and it’s fun.” 


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