I attended my first RSA Conference in 2020. The theme was Human Element, and the sessions across the agenda reflected the perks and challenges of the deeply intertwined relationship between humans and machines. One session delivered by Dr. Ryan Louie, who for the third consecutive year took to the stage to discuss the mental health impacts of cyberattacks, received rave reviews that year.
Impressed as I was with my new employer for having the courage to confront a typically taboo topic in a public forum, I was not alone. Peter Coroneos, Founder of Cybermindz.org, whose extensive background in cybersecurity has informed his work on preventing burnout among industry professionals, credits RSA Conference for raising awareness about mental health in cybersecurity.
That heightened awareness gave birth to what is now Cybermindz.org, a not-for-profit organization that provides, “scalable, effective mental health support for cyber and beyond.” Cybersecurity professionals are custodians of the Internet that serve as the bridge between government and industry. They are essential workers, first responders, and guardians of our most valuable digital assets. They are also exhausted, overwhelmed, burning out, and in need of mental health interventions.
Once again, I turn to the theme of RSA Conference 2023, Stronger Together, which is the hallmark of Coroneos’s work. Driven by the mission to support emotional and cognitive health in cybersecurity, Coroneos partnered with Dr. Richard Miller, Founder, Executive Director and President of the Board of Directors at iRest Institute. Miller developed a 10-step protocol that has yielded great success in the treatment of post-traumatic stress in a wide range of settings; however, it was iRest’s application in the military that sparked a vision for Coroneos.
It wasn’t long before Coroneos underwent iRest training and piloted the program applying the same protocol used with returning veterans in Iraq and Afghanistan to build and rebuild mental resilience in cyber professionals in Australia. After going through the 10-step protocol, the participants talked about their experiences. “We know that it works,” Coroneos said.
“We have amazing research capabilities thanks to Dr. Andrew Reeves, a researcher for human aspects of cybersecurity. He was able to provide reports to organizations on the initial mental health status of their cyber teams and evidence the evolution as they progress through the training.” Participants reportedly felt they were better able to let go of their thoughts from the day, sleep better, and feel more connected.
Cybermindz.org officially launched in Australia in June 2022. Since its inception, they have trained seven thousand people to deliver the protocol, four thousand of whom are in the US. The increasing popularity has inspired Coroneos to launch in the US, which will officially happen on April 24, when Cybermindz.org hosts the Mental Health in Cybersecurity Leadership Summit at The Contemporary Jewish Museum, mere steps away from RSA Conference 2023. Attendees will have the chance to see a demonstration of the iRest protocol from Dr. Richard Miller and hear from CISOs who will share their mental health support strategies.
The efforts won’t stop in San Francisco. Cybermindz.org has ambitions to bring a pilot program to a team of cyber defenders in Ukraine, where iRest already has a team working with an orphanage and a psychological clinic. “Our mission,” said Coroneos, “is to alleviate suffering in cyber teams, keeping them strong, committed, effective and healthy.”
For those who share Coroneos’s passion and wish to attend the Mental Health in Cybersecurity Leadership Summit, you can continue to deepen your understanding of confronting the pressures of the job and developing empathy by reserving a seat at these RSAC 2023 sessions: Under Pressure: What Cyber Can Learn from First Responders and Empathy as a Service to Create a Culture of Security.