Stefan Molls joined Tanium three years ago with an idea for an innovative product: a way to track the vulnerability of networks to cyber threats from lateral movement.
Living in Nuremberg, Germany, little did Stefan know that halfway around the world in Illinois, he had a kindred spirit — Josh Bryant, another technologist with a similar idea then working at another company. This is the story of how their career paths met and how Tanium helped innovation flourish.
A passion project in the cyber world
When he started trying to solve the lateral-movement challenge, Stefan worked for one of the largest companies in the German DAX30 playing the role of a bad guy trying to penetrate the company’s systems.
Could he take a power plant offline? Or open the doors of a moving train? Or falsify the results of critical medical devices? Lateral movement was one of his favorite tactics. Steal the credentials of one user and take that access to move deeper into a network in search of sensitive data and high-value assets.
In large-enterprise environments, it’s extremely hard to keep track of user credentials, so Stefan adapted some open-source products to help him scan entire network environments continuously, rather than doing spot checks.
Even though it took months to gather the data, and the quality in Stefan’s assessment was “horrible” compared to the speed and accuracy of the data he can now get with Tanium, it still allowed him and his team to be very successful.
That was the beginning of Stefan’s passion project. With a family, the constant travel for work was becoming hard to sustain, and out of the blue, Tanium came knocking.
How did Tanium’s unsolicited interest in you coincide with your desire to pursue your lateral-movement project?
Stefan Molls: Tanium wasn’t on my radar at all. One of our recruiters contacted me. It piqued my curiosity, and I looked into Tanium. Once I understood their technology, with its wide-scale access to information that scales to some of the largest environments in the world, I realized I could automate a lot of the work I was doing at my last company with Tanium. I could take the prototype I’d already built and get the data I needed in seconds.
When you interviewed with Tanium senior software engineer Rory Prendergast, you were determined to keep working on your idea, even if it was just on your own. How did he respond?
Stefan Molls: Rory was very positive. He said, “We’re looking for people that want to innovate and build things.” At other companies, you might build something and not share it because you were afraid someone would say, “Don’t work on that. Don’t waste your time.” The status quo was not to go the extra mile.
Tanium was the first place where I was encouraged. I could be very open, talk to others, and receive a lot of support. That’s how I met my collaborator Senior Technical Account Manager Josh Bryant. I presented my idea, which I was calling BRAIN, at Tanium’s Next Top Innovator (TNTI) showcase. I already had some customers willing to test my prototype and offer feedback.
Josh, before we explore your contributions to BRAIN, which ultimately became Tanium Impact, tell us a bit of your backstory.
Josh Bryant: I grew up around computers. My dad minored in something to do with microprocessors in college; it was his hobby. I used to build computers with him. My first job in tech was working in a Motorola factory assembling StarTAC phones.
Then I joined the Air Force as a systems administrator. The early training was primarily things I already knew. I learned a lot on the job from some very smart people.
I was active duty for five years, then continued serving in the Air National Guard. Now, 20 years after joining, I lead a team of Cyber Threat Intelligence Analysts as a Master Sergeant in the Illinois Air National Guard. Tanium has been very supportive of my continued service, with benefits like paid military leave.
Tell us how you and Stefan started working together.
Josh Bryant: Stefan and I didn’t meet until after he presented at TNTI. I’d worked on similar projects before coming to Tanium. We had almost the same idea but had been working independently.
With my customer workload, I hadn’t gotten anything working, but he did. As soon as I saw it, I thought, “This is exactly what I was trying to do. I need to get involved.” And he was happy to have me help.
Stefan Molls: Josh really helped me make BRAIN better and more precise in getting the right data. Soon we were able to show it to Charles Ross, our chief customer officer (CCO), who helped us get in front of Tanium’s Co-founder and CEO Orion Hindawi. Once Orion saw it, he was on board, and we got development resources.
When did Impact debut as part of the platform, and what does the future hold for Impact?
Stefan Molls: Tanium Impact went into general availability (GA) on June 30, 2020. It’s now part of the on-premises platform and Tanium as a Service (TaaS)
Josh Bryant: We still have more to do. Some of the features didn’t make the cut for our initial release. Moving from an idea all the way to a product that customers use was an incredible experience.
Customers are really excited about it. We’re learning all sorts of things working with customers. We have more than 125 [customers] using Impact to analyze well over 5 million endpoints.
Summarize for us how Tanium made it exciting to come to work every day.
Josh Bryant: Building Impact and continuing to work on it really excites me. I had opportunities at past employers to make minor contributions, but nowhere near the level of involvement I’ve had here. We’re constantly encouraged to try things.
Stefan Molls: At Tanium I finally arrived at a company with colleagues that show the same passion and motivation to solve interesting and challenging problems just as I do. It is so motivating when you see your peers getting excited about something you create or have in mind. Especially when they go the extra mile to help you make it even better.
“Inside Tanium” is part of a series that highlights the people and culture of Tanium. To learn more about Tanium and explore our range of career opportunities, visit our Tanium Careers page.