Theranos flamed out in spectacular fashion, but you can still learn from the company’s “worst practices.”
In Alex Gibney’s absorbing new HBO documentary, “The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley,” we see the cautionary tale of Elizabeth Holmes, the now infamous entrepreneur who dropped out of Stanford at age 19 to start Theranos. The company promised to disrupt the $36 billion blood-testing market by testing for a wide range of diseases via a single drop of blood, but turned out to be a massive fraud that bilked investors out of billions of dollars and put the lives of consumers at risk.
As someone who has worked in the cybersecurity industry for more than two decades, I couldn’t help but think about some of the overarching themes related to how Holmes and her consiglieri, Sunny Balwani, operated Theranos and what security leaders might take away from their “worst practices.”
Know Your SilosCountless business articles caution against the risk of operational silos, but you’d be hard pressed to find a more systemic and flagrant example than in the story of Theranos, in which the engineering team responsible for building the machine were quite literally segregated from the laboratory chemists who were responsible for its testing results. In the film, Theranos engineer Dave Philippides says, “If the people from the chemistry team could talk about what was coming next from the engineering team, they would have said, ‘that’s not going to solve the problem.’ But since everyone was working on it separately, they could all keep on working forever without solving anything.”
At Theranos, the silos were a feature, not a bug. Regardless, it should serve as a reminder for security leaders to be aware of their own silo blind spots and ask themselves how information, ideas, and vulnerabilities are shared — or not — …
Author: Chad Loeven President of VMRay Inc.