This story is part one into a several months-long investigation conducted by vBTruth. During the investigation on the accusations of fraud, malfeasance, conflicts of interest, and breach of fiduciary responsibility, we at vBTruth ultimately felt this story warranted coming out of retirement and sharing these individuals’ combined stories. vBTruth is continuing its investigation and will report subsequent updates as new evidence is uncovered.
Sunlight is the best disinfectant. This mantra of transparency still remains true today. After several months of attempting to resolve concerns of fraud, conflicts of interest, self-dealing, breach of fiduciary responsibility and malfeasance behind closed doors with no resolution, individuals are finally coming forward and shining a light.
Multiple individuals, including several current and past members of the ISSA-LA Chapter, have accused the current sitting ISSA-LA Chapter President and now the former OWASP-LA Chapter President Richard Greenberg and the current sitting ISSA-LA Chapter Vice President and now former OWASP-LA Chapter Vice President David Wettenstein of fraud, conflicts of interest, self-dealing, breach of fiduciary responsibility and malfeasance. The accusations of malfeasance and breach of fiduciary responsibility are starting to extend to the current sitting ISSA-LA chapter board for turning a blind eye to conflicts of interests by the current Chapter President and Vice President, failure to enforce the bylaws of the chapter, and failure to remove the Chapter President and Vice President. The number of individuals making accusations appears to be growing more and louder by the day. The number of victims continues to grow with each passing moment, and the number of causalities in this journey towards finding a resolution continue to rise.
On March 25, 2021, ISSA-LA Chapter President Richard Greenberg filed articles of organization with the Wyoming Secretary of State’s office, forming a new limited liability company: Layer 8 Masters. Legal business filings were obtained from both the Wyoming Secretary of State’s Office and California Secretary of State’s Office. Listed in these business filings were Richard Greenberg, Haral Tsitsivas, David Wettenstein, and Alexander Braehler – members of the limited liability company. The purpose of the business is to host cyber security educational events under the brand “Planet Cyber Sec Conference”.
Since September 2021, Planet Cyber Sec has held 11 cyber security conferences throughout Southern California, including CIO/CISO Forums, AppSec SoCal, and other security conferences and events.
ISSA-LA, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charity, is operated by a volunteer group of individuals who make up the leadership and board of ISSA-LA. These same volunteers have a primary place of employment in which they derive income from for expenses.
While it is not unethical to hold a primary place of employment and serve concurrently on a 501(c)(3) nonprofit board, nor is it unethical to directly compete against the nonprofit, it is questionable to start a brand new business that competes in the same industry, the same vertical, the same geographic area, and space (security conferences) that offers nearly identical services, and where the same for profit company and nonprofit obtains the vast majority of its income – while concurrently led by identical sitting leaders of both the for profit organization and nonprofit organization.
It is clearly unethical, and a clear conflict of interest to be using the ISSA-LA member’s money, the ISSA-LA’s non-profit resources, and to be profiting from their position as leaders in the non-profit for a for-profit organization, especially one directly owned by the ISSA-LA Chapter President and Chapter Vice President. The Chapter President and Chapter Vice-President has been using member’s money, using member owned resources, have a conflict of interests, and are potentially profiting from sponsorships and revenue from ticket sales at their for-profit enterprise while potentially leaving ISSA-LA members holding the bill on indirect expenses. Multiple individuals have raised these concerns privately and quietly, often having lengthy conversations and sharing their concerns.
Multiple newsletters sent by ISSA-LA share a consistent repeating theme of offering an ISSA-LA member discount to attend Planet Cyber Sec events. Each email lacks any notification and disclosure to anyone reading the newsletter that the current Chapter President and Vice President were owners of Planet Cyber Sec and had an equity and financial stake in the success of Planet Cyber Sec. Effectively the lack of transparency, how each email is phrased, could be perceived, and interpreted by any reasonable individual “Planet Cyber Sec” is an ISSA-LA organized event. vBTruth was able to obtain copies of newsletters and verify their authenticity.
One individual interviewed by vBTruth, on condition of anonymity, because this individual had concerns about a reoccurrence of being harassed, defamed, and slandered by the Chapter President, witnessed firsthand at the brand confusion, promoting, and selling Planet Cyber Sec at other local events. Representatives from ISSA-LA gave away tickets, selling it as “ISSA-LA is giving away two tickets to Planet Cyber Sec”. There was no disclosure to potential speakers, and potential sponsors that Planet Cyber Sec is directly owned by the ISSA-LA Chapter President and Vice President.
The list of concerns continues, ranging from inappropriate use of chapter resources such as mailing lists, chapter intellectual property, multiple social media accounts across multiple platforms owned by ISSA-LA. vBTruth has independently verified that select social media owned by ISSA-LA does indeed promote Planet Cyber Sec. In all instances, there are no disclosures the Chapter President or Vice President are owners of Planet Cyber Sec.
This individual further alleges there was never any chapter board approvals given to Planet Cyber Sec or its owners to promote Planet Cyber Sec, to use chapter social media, and other chapter assets in the manner it was used for Planet Cyber Sec. The same individual alleged that Richard Greenberg sent Planet Cyber Sec information across all multiple marketing channels – all done without permission and a vote by the chapter boards, effectively bypassing chapter board approval not once, but multiple times.
One individual vBTruth interviewed, on condition of anonymity because they feared retaliation and physical harm from the Chapter President, stated they had serious misgivings and concerns not just over the use of chapter resources, but chapter member’s money. According to the individual, the Chapter President spent member’s money on himself on lavish, all-expense paid trips to RSA Conference, in San Francisco, CA, and BlackHat USA in Las Vegas, NV. These trips were completely paid for by ISSA-LA members. These trips are not cheap. Hotels can easily run over a thousand dollars a night during RSA Conference and BlackHat USA, according to this individual. These board approved trips were intended to raise the profile of ISSA-LA and build relationships with potential speakers and sponsors.
However, this individual alleged that the Chapter President was no where to be found during RSA Conference and BlackHat USA. This individual never ran into the Chapter President at the RSA Conference or BlackHat USA exhibit halls. Several other individuals with ties to the Chapter President never encountered the Chapter President on the exhibit hall floor. vBTruth was unable to verify the claim, however the individual was able to provide multiple receipts and credit card bills showing their presence at RSA Conference and BlackHat USA. vBTruth was also able to find photos on social media indicative and aligning to what this individual alleges, including one photo where the Planet Cyber Sec logo is clearly visible on a polo shirt worn by the ISSA-LA Chapter President while on ISSA-LA member’s money.
At the same time, there were serious questions whether the time and money spent on these trips or utilization of LinkedIn was for the Chapter President’s personal gain, his personal business, or for the Chapter. As one individual pointed out, “It is very hard to distinguish whether Richard was doing things to build his business or for ISSA-LA as they are all comingled together.” This pattern mixing utilization of chapter funded resources for personal gain extends to LinkedIn as well, as ISSA-LA is paying for the Chapter President’s LinkedIn Premium account.
The concerns of unethical behavior, using member’s money, using chapter resources, creating brand confusion, self-dealing, and the lack of transparency and reasonable disclosure have created various degrees of confusion. It is believed that more than one exhibitor thought they were sponsoring and giving money to ISSA-LA and not Richard’s Planet Cyber Sec. There has been at least one accusation that the President and Vice President was redirecting and diverting potential sponsors, money (through sponsorships and ticket sales) and speakers away from ISSA-LA events and towards Planet Cyber Sec while lining the Chapter President’s and Vice President’s own pockets.
The concerns have triggered a wave of resignations at ISSA-LA, with at least one confirmed resignation was in protest to the unethical behavior by the Chapter President and Vice President. Based on information that vBTruth has been able to assemble, the board turnover at ISSA-LA has been extreme. Since May 2022, at least eight ISSA-LA chapter board members have resigned or have chosen to not continue on the board. Their roles range from Chapter Secretaries, Chapter Treasurers, and multiple Directors. That is at least an 80% board turnover in 18 months on a ten-seat chapter board, or a 67% board turnover on a twelve seat chapter board. Several individuals appear to have held board positions multiple years and abruptly quit with no public reason given. Additionally, starting August 2023, six advisory board members also abruptly resigned over a short period of two months. Yet the President and Vice President continues to remain in power ten plus years later.
At least two board positions remain vacant to this day, in violation of the ISSA-LA bylaws: the Executive Director and Social Media Director positions. In the upcoming 2024 board elections for ISSA-LA being held December 2023, the position of Technology Director is unfilled, and the Executive Director and Social Media Director are mysteriously not on the ballot nor being advertised as vacant.
Citing these concerns, multiple individuals have privately raised numerous questions, concerns, and complaints to numerous organizations including, ISSA-LA, ISSA International, OWASP International, International Information System Security Certification Consortium, and other organizations regarding the founders of Layer 8 Masters and Planet Cyber Sec.
At least one individual has expressed their concerns to one organization’s general counsel because they fear potential physical harm by the Chapter President, as well as slander as they have been the confirmed victims of slander by the Chapter President.
They also expressed no confidence or independence in the ISSA-LA board. They firmly believed that any action brought by the members would not lead to any action because not enough victims or individuals would be willing to come forward and confront and challenge the Chapter President and Vice President in a meeting as written in the ISSA-LA bylaws. They have concerns that those frustrated members and victims have chosen not to renew their memberships, refuse to get involve and have tried to move on, or transferred as members to another chapter as to keep distance between themselves and the current Chapter President and Vice President. They also firmly believed that the board lacks independence because Richard Greenberg, Chapter President of ISSA-LA and face of Planet Cyber Sec can appoint and fill vacant ISSA-LA board positions, per the ISSA-LA bylaws. They reasonably believe the board is now filled with the Chapter President’s cronies.
OWASP International appears to be the only organization who has conducted any investigation of the complaints and examination of the evidence to date on the unethical behavior of Planet Cyber Sec founders. It appears that OWASP International found the complaints valid as Richard Greenberg, Haral Tsitsivas, and David Wettenstein are no longer listed as leaders of OWASP-LA and OWASP-OC. vBTruth did not reach out to OWASP International to verify because their website cites confidentiality related to these types of issues.
Tensions, frustrations, and anger have reached a breaking point with multiple victims and individuals. Many are suffering from emotional exhaustion. They want to close the chapter on this saga.
Other than OWASP, these victims and individuals believe more than one organization has turned a blind eye. These organizations are refusing to take any actions and refusing to move forward due to procedural semantics because their policies do not allow whistleblower and anonymous submissions. Often these victims find themselves having to defend their positions to remain anonymous because of a deep fear of retribution. Multiple individuals have expressed similar concerns, including potentially physical altercation, physical intimidation, defamation, slander, harassment, or libel between themselves and Richard Greenberg.
One question remains: Who actually cares about these ethics violations and will take action to stand up to these clear infractions and violations? An individual lamented that this has been a frustrating, disheartening, and discouraging multiyear process.
These victims feel abandoned. Alone. Exhausted. The very ethics, and the upstanding principals spoken throughout the security industry ring hollow. These organizations are no where to be found when confronted with overwhelming evidence that something is amiss.
What lies ahead for each remains to be seen. And yet there are those who continue to champion the ethics, the morals, and the principals that so many have seem to have conveniently forgotten.