CEO Perspective: A Sit-Down with Subsentio’s “Testing Guru”

Subsentio President and CEO Steve Bock speaks with Shawn Hannon, VP of Engineering and Chief Information Security Officer on the difference Subsentio peoples’ experience makes to our clients. Shawn came to Subsentio in 2009 following a successful career at US West, AT&T and Verisign. His background in IT, engineering and testing in the CALEA compliance realm comes into play daily for communications service providers that rely on Subsentio.

Bock: Your career has spanned some of the most biggest moments in telecom history including deregulation of the old Bell system and the passage of the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act. Comparing those signature moments to the present day, what stands out?

Hannon: It’s definitely a changed world. The first time I saw the term “CALEA” was during a validation test of Class 5 telephone switches at US West. CALEA was so new that nobody knew what it was. And the old network switching guys were very traditional. In fact they were reluctant to let anyone in to test CALEA solutions or target selected individuals for a lawful intercept. Now, of course, testing is routine and our customers fully understand that it is essential to ensure that CALEA solutions are fully validated before a court order arrives.

Bock: What attracted you to the lawful intercept arena in the first place?

Hannon: Two things, really. Coming from the carrier environment, I understood that CALEA represented a more systematic and controlled approach to lawful intercept that meant lower risk and inconvenience for the service provider. And opportunity presented itself. My first job on the other side of the fence was with VeriSign running the NetDiscovery Lab and testing all CALEA-related products. It was exciting and the business grew quickly. My seven years’ at VeriSign involved me in testing every manner of network switch and router used by service providers, and also working closely with law enforcement. These lessons carried over to my current job at Subsentio.

Bock: In your view, what sets this job apart?

Hannon: It’s the most unique spot in IT that you’ll ever see. Given the wide variety of types of equipment and every type of service we might encounter — 2G, 3G, LTE, cable, VoIP, domestic and international — there are literally no standard procedures. Working in this environment requires a very experienced team of independent, self-motivated individuals who are totally committed, available 24 X 7, and know when and where to reach out for resources to get the job done.

Bock: Do you have a favorite on-the-job “war story?”

Hannon: Yes, and it involved a very well-known provider of VoIP services that was under the gun to be CALEA compliant. Several competing trusted third parties had tried various technology solutions without success, and as a result the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) ended up having to install its own box to do a lawful intercept. Just one problem: The ports on the FBI’s device quickly filled up with targets. So when the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) came along to do its own investigation there was no room on the box to handle a second lawful intercept. The DEA complained to the FBI, which went straight to the Enforcement Division of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to highlight the problems created by this carrier’s failure to be CALEA compliant. That’s when Subsentio stepped in and said, “let us try.” We went in and successfully installed and tested our ACME Packet solution and the Verint Stargate mediation system. It’s lucky for the VoIP provider that we arrived when we did. The company was just 10 days away from being hit with a $10,000 per day fine for non-compliance by the FCC.

Bock: What about horror stories involving service providers that saved a buck by going with cheaper TTPs but paid the price later?

Hannon: We’ve certainly seen cases where the engineering staffs at other TTPs have been overwhelmed by a heavy volume of sales orders that they can’t support on a timely basis. Worse still are instances where some companies promise things that simply can’t be delivered and validated. That kind of unethical behavior only leads to problems for everyone — the service provider, law enforcement and the TTP.

Bock: How do you see Subsentio setting itself apart?

Hannon: We don’t sign up everybody as a client, just those that want to work with us. We want clients that believe in what we’re doing, like the fact that we’re fanatical about testing, and who want to see the test results of their Subsentio CALEA compliance solutions.

Bock: Is there a particular part of this job that makes you the proudest?

Hannon: Trust is huge. Service providers and law enforcement agencies alike know we’re serious about this business, and completely transparent. When there’s a problem we’re up front about it and let them know so we can work together to fix it, rather than try to hide an issue as some do. Our experience is a source of pride, too. We’re familiar with every communications technology, as you would expect of a company in this space, and that contributes to the long term relationships we have with our clients. But the big thing is always trust. There is no greater honor or feeling of satisfaction than being completely trusted by the people you work for.