The first time I met Alex Lanstein ’07, he was in the basement of Shain Library, sporting a Boston Red Sox cap, calmly manning the computer Help Desk. I, still in my pajamas, was in a state of sheer panic.
Just an hour before, I had managed to douse my computer with a gallon of chocolate soymilk. Gone, I thought, were three 15-page papers that I had recently drafted and not backed up, as well as a portion of my sanity. But after a few minutes and some troubleshooting, Lanstein was able to save the data on my hard drive, including my precious papers.
Today, Lanstein still works miracles with computers. What have changed since his days at the Help Desk, however, are his job description and clientele.
As a senior security architect at the computer security company FireEye, he caters to clients in the Fortune 500, Department of Defense and the Intelligence Community – who, suffice to say, are far more demanding and high profile than I’ll ever be.
These clients rely on people like Lanstein to devise solutions to computer security problems that are extraordinarily complex and often involve issues of international and national security. He works to prevent computer attacks – a rapidly growing global problem. The “Kneber” botnet attacks, for example, involved hackers in Europe and China who recently broke into computers at nearly 2,500 companies and government agencies. And Google and other American companies in China appear to have been hacked by university students.
Lanstein said that his clients, especially the government, “face different challenges than the commercial world. One might think that the recent attack on Google was sophisticated, but it was really fairly run-of-the mill. The feds see attacks that are much more complex. Even the recent ‘Kneber’ botnet attacks involved unsophisticated criminals in a sea of professionals.”
There’s a good chance that Lanstein’s work has recently benefited you and your computer. About a year ago he hijacked the world’s largest spam botnet (a computer network that distributes often malicious software) and held it offline, preventing between 50 and 60 percent of worldwide spam from entering our inboxes.
Lanstein’s success has made him sought after by some of the biggest names in the business. His work has been featured in media outlets such as The Washington Post, BBC Online, PC World and G4TV. He has been asked to speak at classified conferences inside the Department of Defense, present malware forensic analysis to law enforcement at Interpol in Lyon, France, and brief numerous agencies on the current cyber crime landscape.
Lanstein is quick to offer credit where it’s due: to Connecticut College and, in particular, to the computer science and information services departments.
He appreciates the small size of the computer science department, the flexibility, rigor and hands-on nature of the curriculum, and the “top-notch” quality of his professors and mentors like John Schaeffer, the systems and network administrator who contributed to his current success.
“From the beginning, John allowed me to play a big role in the College network,” Lanstein recalls. “My freshman summer I singlehandedly configured and installed new networking equipment in every dormitory, tested every new cable, tied them all together and learned a ton.”
It was this type of firsthand experience that allowed Lanstein to master programming and server skills that are integral to his job. He owes his current position to a presentation he gave with Schaeffer at a conference his senior year, where his demonstration of the projects they completed caught the attention of officials from FireEye.
Schaeffer says, “The FireEye people at the presentation were so impressed with Alex that they snatched up his contact info, called their president in Silicon Valley and landed Alex an interview.”
-Joanna Gillia ’07