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Black Hat Optis Series Judging Criteria

Sailboat near a bridge. Used on an article titled, Black Hat Optis Series Judging Criteria.


I interviewed approximately sixty industry leaders from over forty companies who attended Black Hat. Although this article series—The Optis—can be read as a traditional Black Hat recap, I specifically highlight twenty-one companies that stand out and whose growth I recommend watching.


Rochester Institute of Technology’s Cybersecurity Club, RITSEC, inspired the metrics I used to analyze and rank companies. Specifically, I adopted RITSEC’s motto, “Security Through Community,” while examining each company’s ability to promote social good, inclusion, and innovation inside and outside of the company. Furthermore, I referenced materials—public demos, open-source code, and publications—to determine the accuracy of the company’s claims and the span of its communal reach, public contributions, and social good.

Cyber Defense Magazine

Given Cyber Defense Magazine’s awarding of unicorns (“a private company with a valuation of over $1 billion”) and that Olympic sailing occurred during Black Hat, I created a conceptual framework—The Optis Series—to highlight innovative and socially conscious companies at Black Hat USA 2021 (UserGuiding). The Optis Series contains three articles: bronze, silver, and gold. In many ways, sailing is similar to cybersecurity in that social, technical, and economic barriers often prevent beginners from joining. However, some companies and leaders strive to alleviate these barriers.

🌸👋🏻 Let’s take this to your inbox. You’ll receive occasional emails about whatever’s on my mind—offensive security, open source, academics, boats, software freedom, you get the idea.


For example, Clark Mills and Major Clifford McKay created the Optimist Dinghy (Opti) to ease financial and age barriers to sailing (The Optimist Dinghy 1947-2007, 2013). The Opti design was so successful that it became one of the most popular sailboats globally and has introduced millions to sailing.

Similar to Mills and McKay’s progress in sailing, the companies recognized by the Optis Series significantly improved their community and industry. The Optis Series highlights cybersecurity companies’ innovation and ability to address social, technical, and economic barriers. Furthermore, the definition of an optimist, “a person who is inclined to be hopeful and to expect good outcomes,” represents the outlook of cybersecurity if these trends continue (Merriam-Webster, 2021).


Here are the judging criteria:

  • Highly differentiated and innovative by offering a unique product, technology, or technique.
  • Demonstrates criteria growth, ideally supported by numerical data like funding and sponsorship, acquisitions, and hiring trends.
  • Active external enthusiasm and press.
  • Practices embodied by “Security Through Community,” such as inclusion initiatives and a supportive company culture.
  • Socially conscious contributions that are easily proved or demonstrated (i.e., open-source code, publications, blogs, events, and licensing choices).

Bronze companies fit into one or two categories, while silver companies demonstrated three or four; gold companies exemplified all five. All companies, however, epitomized their awarded categories enough to deserve substantial recognition for their efforts.

Final notes

I was very flexible with my interviews. I did my best to create a holistic picture of each companies’ values and technologies. Lastly, I cited evidence whenever possible through public numerical data, blog posts, reports, publications, and product demos.

I listed the three articles in the series below. These also appeared in the September 2021 edition of the magazine.

If you would like to read more of my work, please see my cybersecurity archive, or read Junior Black Teaming ISTS: Blockchain Explorer.

Portrait of Olivia Gallucci in garden, used in LNP article.

Written by Olivia Gallucci

Olivia is an honors student at the Rochester Institute of Technology. She writes about security, open source software, and professional development.