Atypical Folks Are Ideal For Cybersecurity. True Story

Atypical Folks Are Ideal for Cybersecurity. True Story.jpeg

By Selena Templeton, host of DiverseIT

Frédéric Vezon, Founder of ASPertise, a technology service company that leverages the assets of atypical (Asperger’s, Autism, High IQ) consultants, chats with ITSPmagazine’s Selena Templeton about his Asperger-owned company and how neurodiverse folks are ideal for cybersecurity.

Tune in to hear Frédéric define “Atypicals” and shed some light on what it means to be Autistic or Asperger, general characteristics that this community has and why that makes them invaluable in technology and cybersecurity, the correlation between Atypicals and hackers, what prompted him to launch an Asperger-led technology services company – and how doing so led to his own diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome (scroll down for podcast).

People tend to think that those with Autism or Asperger’s are less intelligent than neurotypical people because they often have difficulty expressing themselves, but they are actually often more intelligent.

“A certain number of people are born with a different cognitive structure – their brain is made differently than the bulk of the population. We call them Atypicals.” ~ Frédéric Vezon

Of course, in the end, it doesn’t matter if you are diagnosed with Asperger’s or Autism; the key thing is that you find other people and an environment in which you feel comfortable and can put your unique skills to work.

It’s important for people to be able to create and belong to a network of like-minded individuals within a company. Otherwise, in a predominantly Typical environment, an Atypical will expend a lot of energy trying to fit in which can often lead to burn out or quitting. When they’re with their peers (other Atypicals), they don’t need that much energy to communicate, etc.

That’s why it’s so important to build these communities, networks and work environments – they nurture the differences between how Typicals and Atypicals work rather than try to force everyone to work in the same way. Well-being is absolutely important so that the Atypical can perform his or her best.

“Basically, Atypicals [Autistic, Asperger’s]...have a different way of looking at data...so the interaction between the Atypicals and data is very different than the interaction between neurotypicals and data.” -Frédéric Vezon

Everything is different with Atypicals – the way you recruit them, interview them, involve them with other employees. Thus, ASPertise has changed the whole interviewing process to make it pro-Atypical. For example, it’s difficult for them to show their value on a piece of paper, so the hiring team at ASPertise doesn’t pay a lot of attention to the resume, but rather talks to them in person. And after talking to a candidate, they will often help create a bio that showcases their strengths – which they are not often aware of.

Why are Atypicals so ideal for jobs in technology and cybersecurity? A quick look back at Silicon Valley’s growth stages can shed some light: in the 1950s there was DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) and the Army, then in the ‘60s silicon chips and circuits, then personal computers, then the Internet, then social media.

Peter Thiel, founder of Paypal, said that being Asperger is an asset in Silicon Valley.

When you look at those game-changing companies in the industry during each of the aforementioned stages, you’ll see that they were founded by Atypicals (who attract other Atypicals). Because the same brain structure will solve problems more or less the same way, in a world full of Neurotypicals, you can see a definite correlation between Atypicals and innovation.  

“Computer Science was built for Aspergers by Aspergers because binary code is very close to the way Atypicals think about the world.” -Frédéric Vezon

According to Frédéric, most hackers are Atypicals, so as the saying goes: it takes one to know one. Neurotypicals usually have cognitive blind spots, so when they build software, their blind spot makes the software easy to target for Atypicals who don’t have those blind spots.

 

You can hear about all this and more in my interview with Frédéric Vezon (keep scrolling, it's down at the bottom!).

Be sure to also read Frédéric's Expert Corner article about cognitive blind spots.

 

And finally, here are some interesting facts about Atypicals, Autism and Asperger’s...

Definitions

Note that Autism and Asperger Syndrome are no longer considered disorders, but rather just neurological differences.

  • Atypical/Neurodiverse:Neurodiversity is the diversity of human brains and minds – the infinite variation in neurocognitive functioning within our species. Neurodiversity is a biological fact” and includes Autism, Asperger’s, introversion, dyslexia, and ADHD.

  • Typical/Neurotypical:‘Neurotypical’ is a newer term that’s used to describe individuals of typical developmental, intellectual, and cognitive abilities. In other words, it’s not used to describe individuals who have autism or another developmental difference.”

  • Asperger Syndrome/Asperger’s:Asperger syndrome is one of several previously separate subtypes of autism that were folded into the single diagnosis Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) with the publication of the DSM-5 diagnostic manual [opens in PDF] in 2013. Asperger syndrome is generally considered to be on the ‘high functioning’ end of the spectrum.”

  • Autism/Autistic Spectrum: According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), “After being considered a mental disorder for years, then a neurodevelopmental handicap, autism is increasingly being considered a human variant that sometimes involves extreme adaptive advantages and disadvantages. This point of view partly emerges from the fact that autistics perform certain human tasks at the same level, and in some cases even better than neurotypical persons. Furthermore, they perform these tasks using cognitive strategies and cerebral allocations that are different from the majority of humans.”

Atypical Characteristics

Obviously it varies from individual to individual, but generally speaking, these are some typical characteristics that Atypicals (Autistic, Asperger’s) share:

  • Great language skills, but difficulty interpreting both verbal and non-verbal language like body language, sarcasm or metaphors

  • Find social interactions overwhelming  – poor or intense eye contact, little ability for small talk, communication is for delivering information not merely interacting, heightened anxiety

  • Prefer repetitive behaviors and routines

  • Have highly focused/specific interests

  • Have a sensitivity to sound, light, smells, temperatures, etc.

  • Tend to be very detail oriented, way more than the average person, though may miss the bigger picture

  • Higher than average intelligence

  • Fluent in technology – tends to be easier for them to learn and work on technology than the rest of the population

  • Unique interaction with data

Main Strengths of Atypicals at Work

As per the ASPertise website:

  • Above average or very high intelligence & exceptional memory

  • A real passion and a real talent for their work and their main personal interests

  • Most of them have graduated from universities

  • The bulk of them have major professional experience

  • They are very creative and are solution focused

  • Perfect cognitive match for computer and engineer work

Famous Atypicals

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an April 2018 report shows that 1 in 59 children (1 in 37 boys and 1 in 151 girls) are identified as being on the autism spectrum.

Here are some famous people known or thought to be on the Autism Spectrum:

  • Stanley Kubrick

  • Dan Aykroyd

  • Robin Williams

  • Michelangelo

  • Abraham Lincoln

  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

  • Bill Gates

  • Steve Jobs

  • Isaac Asimov

  • Emily Dickinson

  • Thomas Jefferson

  • Albert Einstein

10 Reasons Why Asperger People Are Better at Cybersecurity

This comes directly from Steve Morgan’s article on CSO:

  1. Most hackers are atypical. A research document from Scotland Yard last year indicates the majority of hackers in England are Aspergers. Some of them are identified; others don’t disclose it.

  2. Aspergers are extremely detailed oriented, which leads to a "no stone unturned" approach to cybersecurity.

  3. Aspergers are cognitively different, so they are naturally "out of the box" and find innovative solutions to problems without the usual cognitive "Blind spot" of non-autistic people.

  4. Aspergers are extremely focused and can have a high level of concentration. They are capable of hyperfocusing and never let go when they are looking for something.

  5. They have a high capacity for analysis. You can find brilliant Asperger people working as Security Operations Center (SOC) analysts, for example.

  6. They have a demonstrated superior capacity to identify patterns. The Israeli army has created an elite squad ("unit 9900") composed solely of Autistics to deduct with pattern recognition troop movements on satellite images.

  7. It’s been scientifically proven that Aspergers are methodological and make more rational decisions (less cognitive biases).

  8. Many Aspergers are "optimal problem solvers" — they focus on finding the best solutions, not one of the best.

  9. Autistics have what is called Specific Interests: They will read and memorize huge amounts of information in an obsessive way and, therefore, excel in their field of expertise.

  10. People on the spectrum search for intellectual stimulation, complex challenges, and many have the "investigator profile," which is highly valuable for forensics and pen testing.

 

Check out more ITSPmagazine articles on neurodiversity, Autism and Asperger Syndrome right here.


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Frédéric Vezon is President and co-founder of ASPertise. After graduating from higher education establishments ("Grandes écoles"), he held several management positions in major French banking groups and Canadian investment funds. Frédéric has gained extensive experience internationally and has created several technology companies in France, the United States and Canada.