The recent passing of astronauts John Glenn and Eugene Cernan brought nostalgic thoughts to mind. I can vividly recall President Kennedy challenging the skills, determination and capabilities of the United States to put a man on the moon and the subsequent stages of the lunar landing program that culminated in the 1969 moon landing.
Look how far we've come since then. The Apollo Guidance Computer had less computing power than the smartphone that's likely resting in your pocket, but to Eugene Cernan, the last astronaut to walk on the moon, it was considered state of the art technology in 1972. There's simply no end in sight to the fast and furious pace of technological advancement.
I know that 1972 is ancient history to many readers, but to those of us who witnessed the moon landings live, it was exhilarating and wonderful. That experience can also teach us an important lesson about today's monumental cybersecurity and insider threat issues. It has to do with vision, technology and our collective understanding and control of our own destinies, as well as learning from visionaries of the past, and motivating us now, for our future.
While John Glenn and Eugene Cernan prompted this article, I’d like to focus on two other visionaries who played no small role in the world we live today: Alan Turing and Grace Hopper. Alan Turing(1912-1954) was the genius who developed the process for decrypting the German Navy’s Enigma encoding machine. He was a one of a kind mathematician, cryptologist and genius in so many ways and some consider him to be the father of computing.
Turing foresaw a dramatic change in the world, at one point stating, "I believe that at the end of the century the use of words and general educated opinion will have altered so much that one will be able to speak of machines thinking without expecting to be contradicted."
Unfortunately, Turing’s tragic life and early death — worthy of reading about if you don’t already know the story — prevented him from personally fulfilling his vision. His unique mind and technical skills, however, shaped modern history and helped, in part, to bring that vision to fruition. Grace Hopper(1906-1992) was a U.S. Navy Rear Admiral, computer genius and programming pioneer who shaped the computer industry. She was also possessed of a prescient wit and unique perspective, stating, "I've always been more interested in the future than in the past."
Her perspective on change should form the core of senior leadership training seminars, at one point claiming "Humans are allergic to change. They love to say, 'We've always done it this way.' I try to fight that. That's why I have a clock on my wall that runs counter-clockwise."
Countering cybersecurity and insider threats is a relatively recent struggle when we take a broader, historical look at things. These disciplines are based upon technologies and a world that only a few envisioned ahead of time, and it doesn’t feel like we’ve come that far or developed a true understanding of the problem today.
Data and data repositories are growing at rates that were unforeseen only a few short years ago. According to Ben Walker, marketing executive at Vouchercloud, we collectively create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day. It is now estimated that over 90 percent of the current data stores were collected within the past two years.
Much of this data is about us. It contains our private information, our health records, and details about our personal lives. Everything we deal with on a daily basis surrounds data collection and storage. Along with this exponential explosion of data collection and storage comes the threat posed by those who capitalize on this data by stealing, holding ransom, or altering data — all to our detriment. People are using our data to make money, at our expense.
I have to ask — where is the vision that will help us effectively protect all of this data?
We need leadership that can firmly grasp the concept of how important it is to counter these threats. All holders of data — whether commercial, governments, private entities, health care providers or others — must lead the effort. Leadership with a vision is the key and we can no longer afford the posturing, chest pounding or finger pointing that’s become rampant in the industry. It won’t do us any good.
Those who continue to look to the past for answers about countering these digital threats will surely be overcome. We must look to the future with a vision of tomorrow, not for a reflection of yesterday. Leaders must seek out and find those who, like Grace Hopper, are not allergic to change and are not satisfied with the way things have been done in the past.
We must seek out and find those who will put a clock on their wall that runs counter-clockwise. The past can teach us about the qualities of visionary leaders, but it certainly can’t teach us how to march forward and overcome the challenge before us. It’s time we find and listen to the leaders who will help us succeed where we’ve failed so far.
As Grace Hopper said, "We’re just getting started. We’re just beginning to meet what will be the future."
Keith Lowry is the senior vice president of Nuix USG and Nuix's Business Threat Intelligence and Analysis division. He served as chief of staff to the deputy undersecretary of defense for human intelligence, counterintelligence and security at the Pentagon, as well as an information security consultant in the private sector.