Ten Years of White Hat Ball: The Difference a Decade Makes

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As the White Hat Ball prepares to celebrate its tenth anniversary, Eleanor Dallaway takes a look back at the highlights and successes from the past ten years, and learns what a difference a decade can make

Picture the scene: It’s January 2005, and it’s Marcus Alldrick’s birthday. For those of you who don’t know the wonderful senior manager of information risk and protection at Lloyd's of London, he’s the current White Hat chairman. Sitting down to a birthday dinner with KPMG’s Malcolm Marshall, and with the gripe that the SC Awards dinner had recently stopped its charity raffle, the pair brainstormed how the information security industry – “one that isn’t short on cash” – could do more for charity.

Soon after, and back around a lunch table, this time in Covent Garden, and with the added attendance of BT’s Ray Stanton and then SC editor Ron Condon, the group put flesh on the bones of their idea. “We organized a gathering of industry players to set up a steering committee and agreed on two objectives: to raise lots of money for charity, and to make fun and enjoyable events,” recalled Stanton.

From our vantage point ten years down the line, it’s clear to see that both objectives have been achieved, and achieved beyond expectation. With nine highly successful events in the bag, and the tenth poised to be the best yet, the White Hat Ball has earned its place on the industry must-attend calendar and is highly anticipated and enjoyed each year by a loyal and ever-growing information security community.

ChildLine was selected as the chosen charity because of the work it does to protect children from abuse, which as Gerry O’Neill – White Hat committee member and former chair – adds, “is increasingly relevant to the industry as abuse has moved online, and the ChildLine service has also moved online. When we chose ChildLine as our charity, only half of their calls were able to be answered.” Now, the picture is a much brighter one. In the year 2013/14 ChildLine answered over 1.6m contacts from children.  Since 2005, ChildLine has developed its online presence and now more than half of all counselling sessions happen online.

Peter Wanless, CEO of NSPCC, says, “Fundraisers like [White Hat Ball] are essential to the survival and development of the work that we do. With the support of the information security community, we can be there for children who will otherwise have nowhere else to turn.”

Time to Reflect

Alldrick recalls the first ever ball in 2006 as his proudest moment as part of the White Hat committee. “Just getting it off the ground, making it happen, setting the scene from years to come… we were innocent and naïve,” he laughs, “but we did it.”

In contrast, Stanton declares the upcoming tenth year his proudest moment, “because we never knew we’d get past year one.”

O’Neill declares breaking the £100k mark his personal highlight. “The ball had come of age: We broke six figures, we had professional AV, a professional MC and a brilliant band. The caliber of the event had hugely stepped up.” 

The White Hat committee, 2014
The White Hat committee, 2014

From the offset, the original founders had principles in mind which would shape the future events. “We wanted it to be affordable and inclusive. We did not want to build an exclusive event,” Alldrick remembers. “We wanted the White Hat Ball to be accessible to all levels of security and risk professionals,” Stanton concurs, “Whether they are admin support, CEO or CISO.”

Over time that original group of four founders and initial steering committee has evolved, with new committee members replacing retired members with an ever-passionate group of industry professionals all giving up their personal time to support the cause. “It’s the people that make this, the work from all the individuals, and that includes the NSPCC special events team – they have been wonderful,” Alldrick comments.

O’Neill endearingly describes the committee as “a magnet for prima donnas, over-indulged with character.” Everyone contributes in their own way, he adds: “There is really strong goodwill amongst the team, a great diverse committee which is fun to be a part of.” Having joined the committee myself nine months ago, I agree whole-heartedly with O’Neill.

All committee members interviewed for this article wanted to give kudos to one committee member who has served right from the start: Joyce Bell-Walker, the committee secretary, whom Alldrick declares a “solid constant who deserves the recognition.”

But without the support of the information security industry, all of the committee’s work would be in vain. “The commitment and enthusiasm of the industry has been phenomenal,” Alldrick remarks, humbled. From the loyal corporate sponsors, like BT and KPMG, to the individuals who buy their tickets out-of-pocket, it’s the generosity of the information security industry which has allowed the White Hat Ball to prosper and grow.

“We’ve had no problem getting people to support us. The White Hat Ball is always a sell-out,” says Stanton. “The industry has really embraced it, and in return we stay true to our initial objectives, and protect the intimacy of these events.”

O’Neill praises the security industry’s desire to “give back.” He recalls that, “It took time to build momentum, and the first six years were a fairly hard slog.” But now, he says, “companies actually approach us to sponsor. They want the association with the brand, and of course, the other motive is altruistic.” 

"The commitment and enthusiasm of the industry has been phenomenal"Marcus Alldrick, White Hat chairman

Celebrity Endorsement

The White Hat Ball has also had its share of celebrity endorsers. From Esther Rantzen who attended the first ball, to Neil and Christine Hamilton who acted as the very enthusiastic and mischievous chairs of the tops and tails game, to Robert Powell, Nicholas Parsons, Ian Royce and Graham Cole, who have all taken a turn hosting.

Gerry O’Neill recalls how Ian Royce, in particular, left a huge impression. “At last year’s ball, Ian Royce made a very personal speech revealing that he himself had been abused, and he hadn’t had the option of a service like ChildLine to help him. It really brought it home to me. You could have heard a pin-drop in the room,” he recalled.

Celebration Time

Whilst the White Hat committee strives for improvement year on year, the tenth anniversary celebration looks set to be the best yet. “There will be more of a party atmosphere than ever before, and we hope to raise even more money and have even more fun,” Alldrick said. 

So, here’s where you come in, infosec community. Support White Hat, get behind us. “Help us to raise even more money for charity, help us to make an even bigger difference, and have a great time doing it,” urges Alldrick.

And it seems the party spirit is going global, as White Hat events spring up across the world. There’s now a White Hat Ball USA, and current liaisons regarding a launch in Singapore. This is, of course, in addition to the other annual UK events which sit under the White Hat umbrella, including the White Hat Rally, White Hat Golf Day, and the White Hat Marathon Team.

As Ray Stanton reflects on the “legacy that four drunken fools created, and that has been supported and followed by a whole bigger bunch of drunken fools,” it’s easy to recognize just how big a difference a decade has made: £1,000,000 to be precise.

“The last ten years have been an absolute joy,” says Alldrick. “It’s one of – if not the – high point of my career, watching White Hat grow from a conversation over lunch into a phenomenon. It would never have happened without the support, enthusiasm and dedication of a lot of people.”

“Long may this continue,” echoed O’Neill who also shares his gratitude to all the people who have made White Hat such a success.

The final word, however, goes to Ray Stanton, who many will recognize as being totally synonymous with the White Hat Ball. “In another 10 years, I won’t just be proud of the millions we raised, but I’ll be proud of our industry and how close we are to charity, and knowing how much we give back.”

The White Hat Ball Committee would like to thank its 2015 sponsors: KPMG, BT, Qualys, RiskIQ, Barclay Simpson, BP, McAfee, NFU Mutual, Digital Shadows, and the Infosecurity Group, Reed Exhibitions. 

White Hat Ball Last-Minute Availability: Don’t Miss Out 

The 10th anniversary edition of the annual White Hat Ball will take place Friday 30 January 2015 at Bayswater’s Lancaster London Hotel, and due to a last-minute cancellation, four tables have become available. This last-minute availability won’t last long, so to avoid missing out, contact Katie.Welch-May on Katie.Welch-May@NSPCC.org.uk or tel. 020 7825 2608 to book a table - or buy individual tickets - now. The charity ball, in aid of NSPCC ChildLine, attracts over 650 people from the information security industry each year, and includes a champagne reception, three-course dinner, entertainment and live and silent auctions. 

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