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Apr 09, 2024

Credera Veteran’s Network presents: A discussion with City of Houston CISO, Dr. Chris Mitchell  

Francisco Garza
Thomas O'Dell
Jose (J.R.) Ochoa

Francisco Garza, Thomas O'Dell, and Jose (J.R.) Ochoa

Credera Veteran’s Network presents: A discussion with City of Houston CISO, Dr. Chris Mitchell  

On April 5, the Credera Veteran’s Network (CVN) hosted a discussion between Dr. Chris Mitchell, the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) for the City of Houston, and Credera leader Aaron Brisendine, on the state of cyber security in Houston. The discussion was designed to give veterans and members of Credera who are interested in cyber security, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning insight into cyber operations at the city level.       

The audience included Credera leaders across North America, as well as new professionals interested in the dynamic new field of AI/machine learning. Dr. Mitchell spoke on a wide range of topics, many with recurring themes that were relevant to industry leaders and entry-level consultants alike.   

The Office of CISO for the City of Houston   

Dr. Mitchell brings diverse experience from his professional background which includes roles in the US Navy, in the aerospace and defense industry, and as Information Security Officer for the Houston Airport System. As a decorated veteran and industry expert, he possesses numerous cybersecurity-related professional certifications. As CISO, he oversees various aspects of Houston's cybersecurity, a pivotal role considering the city's status as a burgeoning tech hub with various global enterprises including major technology firms, the nexus of the global energy industry, and the largest medical center in the world. Dr. Mitchell's objective is to create a robust and secure cyber environment, leveraging his research focus on employing AI and machine learning to diminish the cyber skills shortage. His expertise earned him the title of "Cybersecurity Defender of the Year" in 2023 by Cisco.  

Dr. Mitchell’s transition from the military to CISO

Dr. Mitchell embarked on his professional journey in the United States Navy, serving diligently as an Operations Specialist. His successful military career, distinguished by numerous recognitions and awards, laid the foundation for his transition to the civilian sector. Ushering his technical knowledge into the sphere of cybersecurity, Dr. Mitchell subsequently worked for over 14 years as Director of IT and Information Systems Security Officer with a major aerospace and defense organization. His next leadership position was as the Information Security Officer for the Houston Airport System.   

These experiences serve as a platform for his current role as CISO for the City of Houston, where he continues to uphold cybersecurity in the fourth largest city in the US.   

Dr. Mitchell’s approach in his role  

Dr. Mitchell’s overarching priority is protecting the city of Houston from nefarious cyber actors. His approach to accomplishing this is working with critical industry partners, creating talented teams, and maintaining the operational mindset in an ever-evolving space. Dr. Mitchell works proactively with industry leaders to create a “team of teams” approach to building cyber awareness across stakeholders in the city. Dr. Mitchell also seeks out top talent from the tech industry, realizing that the best way to stay ahead of threats is to have the right people on your team. He also spoke about compliance not being enough for the modern CISO, and how by maintaining an operational mindset he stays proactive and works to produce tangible results, not a check in the box mentality. Through talent acquisition, working with industry leaders, and maintaining an operational mindset, Dr. Mithcell has successfully protected Houston from major cyberattacks.   

Dr. Mitchell’s top insights and thoughts on the Cyber Domain   

In his presentation, Dr. Mitchell laid out his vision for effective cybersecurity by outlining eight principles. He acknowledged the evolving nature of threat vectors, emphasizing that cybersecurity is not a static domain and there's no one-size-fits-all solution.

CVN quote

To stay a step ahead, he advised taking an operational perspective: shifting from a prevention mentality to a focus on effective response strategies post-exploitation. He emphasized the importance of intentional defensive tactics, rooting them in a clear understanding of the assets being protected and the threats being faced.   

Expressing a need for realistic expectations, Dr. Mitchell alluded to the non-existence of perfect solutions or "unicorns" in cybersecurity. Given the assumption that networks are potentially hostile and already compromised, he underscored the necessity of proactive threat hunting as a core strategy.  

Closing comments and reflection    

This conversation overviewed the essential contributions of Dr. Mitchell as the CISO for the City of Houston. Starting with his decorated military career then transitioning into cybersecurity for the aerospace and defense sector and, ultimately, for Houston, Dr. Mitchell exemplifies a synergy of practical experience and educational excellence. His guiding principles for cybersecurity shed light on an ever-evolving, complex world where intentional protection strategies, proactive threat hunting, and appropriate threat response supersede prevention. Living in a world marked by ever-expanding tech hubs like Houston, these principles underscore the importance of preparedness against increasingly sophisticated cyber-attacks and remind us of the necessity for safeguarding the digital frontiers of our society.   

As an organization, Credera is dedicated to being a leader in emerging technology, while retaining the irreplaceable boutique human touch. Credera will continue to strive to be innovative in the emerging technologies that Dr. Mitchell spoke about, and we will proudly work to ensure a better and safer tomorrow.   

Credera Veteran’s Network  

The mission of the Credera Veteran’s Network is to build and promote a community within Credera focused on recruiting, educating, developing, supporting, and connecting Veterans. Find out more about CVN here.  

If you are interested in learning more about Credera or the CVN, please reach out to findoutmore@credera.com. We’d love to continue the conversation with you. 

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