We lost a pioneer in cybersecurity last week: Donn B. Parker died at the age of 91.
Donn's name may not be immediately familiar to current practitioners in the field. That's because Donn was working in the area before some of them were born; Donn's first books on cybercrime were published in 1976 and 1983!
Donn had a profound moral compass that guided his work. He wrote some of the earliest work on applied computing ethics, with an article in Communications of the ACM in 1968. This also informed his scholarly work in security, especially his study of computer crime. This led to his book "Crime by Computer," published in 1976. Thereafter, he published several more books (seven in total) and reports on computer security and computing ethics, all informed by his deep research into computer crime and his conviction to do what was right.
Among other things, Donn is remembered for his creation of a model for describing cybersecurity properties, known in some circles (and Wikipedia) as "The Parkerian Hexad." Donn also was the founder of the I4 -- the International Information Integrity Institute -- the first global organization of information security leaders.
Mr. Parker was a Fellow of the ACM, a Distinguished Fellow of the ISSA, a recipient of the National Computer System Security Award from U.S. NIST/NCSC, and the Harold F. Tipton Lifetime Achievement Award. He was named to the SRI Hall of Fame and the ISSA Hall of Fame. He served as Secretary of ACM from 1966-1970 and as a member of the ACM Council from 1964-1974.
Donn was a giant in the field and in real life -- he was the tallest person I have ever met working in cyber. Those who knew Donn (and I was fortunate to be one of those people) knew him as a kind, generous, and scholarly individual with a gentle sense of humor. He was jokingly referred to as "The Great Bald Eagle of Information Security," something which he accepted with good humor.
Enclosed is a formal obituary, provided by his family. For other information on Donn, it is worthwhile to consult some of his written works, the Shoulders of Infosec entry on Donn, and his oral history at the Babbage Institute. Earlier this year, Donn completed a book that contains material about his work as well as his life that provides insight into his personality.Donn spoke in the CERIAS seminar series in 1999 and you can see a video of his presentation here.
Formal Obituary: Donn Blanchard Parker
Donn B Parker died peacefully in his sleep September 16, 2021, in Sunnyvale California, at age 91. He was born October 9, 1929, in his grandparents' home in San Jose, the son of Donald William and Miriam Estelle (Blanchard) Parker.
Donn deeply loved God, his wife Lorna, children Diane and Dave, and extended family. He served as an elder at Trinity Lutheran Church, Palo Alto, for many years. He enjoyed downhill skiing in the Sierra and Rocky Mountains, water skiing in San Diego, sailing, daily running in Los Altos, and hiking. Donn also enjoyed world travel with wife Lorna, ocean cruises with his children and grandchildren, researching his family history, and performing (any chance he got) a comedy monologue of his favorite stories and jokes. Donn was loved by the staff and his fellow residents at Belmont Village Assisted Living for his kindness, engaging personality, and dedicated care of his wife Lorna in her final years.
Donn received a Master of Arts degree in mathematics from the University of California Berkeley in 1954. His career began with General Dynamics in San Diego, continued at Control Data Corporation in Palo Alto, and concluded at SRI International and its spin-offs in Menlo Park, California. In his professional career, Donn was among the first to recognize, research, and document computer crime. He dedicated his professional life to the safe and sane use of information technology for the good of mankind. He was a consultant, writer, lecturer, and researcher on computer crime and information security as a senior consultant for 35 years at SRI International and afterwards in his retirement.
Donn served many years as member, officer, and Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), Distinguished Fellow of the Information Systems Security Association (ISSA), and trustee of the Charles Babbage Foundation for the History of Information Technology, working to achieve the safe and crime-free use of information technology. He enjoyed his reputation as a contrarian in his concepts of information security.
During his many years of research on computer crime funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation and Department of Justice, Donn interviewed more than 200 computer criminals and collected information on thousands of criminal cases, now stored among his papers in the archives of the Charles Babbage Institute on the History of Information Technology at the University of Minnesota Anderson Library.
Donn wrote seven books during his sixty year career in information technology. His first two books on computer crime and security were published in 1976 and 1983, were New York Times best sellers, and formed the definitive literature on computer crime. Donn wrote the first computer security and computer crime articles for the Computer Science, Encarta, Grolier, and Britannica Encyclopedias.
Donn was interviewed on CBS 60 Minutes by Dan Rather, ABC 20/20 by Geraldo Rivera, NBC Today by Tom Brokaw, and ABC Good Morning by Joan Lungren. People Magazine published two profiles of him, and he was widely quoted in many news and trade publications. Donn testified before several U.S. Congressional committees and assisted in developing the first computer crime statutes for the U.S. federal government, several U.S. states, and the United Kingdom. He trained the first computer crime detectives for New Scotland Yard, Finland, Norway, and Japan. As an information security consultant, he performed security reviews for more than 250 of the largest businesses worldwide, and formed the International Information Integrity Institute (I-4) at SRI in 1986. I-4 continues today to provide confidential information security advisory services.
Donn's professional awards include: the 1992 Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement from the Information Systems Security Association; the 1994 National Computer System Security Award from U.S. NIST/NCSC; The Aerospace Computer Security Associates 1994 Distinguished Lecturer award; and the MIS Training Institute Infosecurity News 1996 Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1999, the Information Security Magazine recognized Donn as one of the five top Infosecurity Pioneers. He was inducted into the Information Systems Security Association's Hall of Fame in 2000, and the SRI International Hall of Fame in 2002. He was recognized as a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP). In 2003, the International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium (ISC)2 presented him with the Harold F. Tipton Lifetime Achievement Award in ”recognition of his sustained excellence throughout his Information Security career and his contributions to the industry and support of (ISC)2.”
Donn is survived by his daughter Diane Wisdom and husband; two daughters-in-law, six grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; nephew and niece and their families; and brothers- and sister-in-law and their spouses and children. In addition to his parents, he was predeceased by his loving wife Lorna R Parker, brother Richard Parker, nephew Bob Parker, and son David S Parker.
A memorial service will be held 11am, Saturday, October 16, at St Paul Lutheran Church, 1075 El Monte Avenue, Mountain View, CA. Those wishing to remember Donn may make gifts in his son's name, David S. Parker, to the ALS Association (donate.als.org).
Recently, I had cause to reflect on some of what I have done in my career. As one result, I posted a blog entry about how many programming languages I have learned.
As I was writing that up, it struck me that this is an anniversary year: I wrote my first computer program 50 years ago!
I don't recall the exact program, but it was in Fortran 66, was punched onto cards, and run on a Burroughs mainframe (as I recall, it was a B5700). I was in high school at the time, and enrolled in the advanced math track, so I was offered the opportunity to take an experimental computer course in place of shop class.
Thus, I don’t think I ever got to build that clunky birdhouse in woodworking shop. However, I did get to experiment with checking my pre-calc homework on the computer, and I kept all my fingers. I suspect my programs were as clunky as the birdhouses, although it wasn’t as obvious to everyone else. Taking the course also helped cement my nerd status, ensuring wedgies and no dates for the remainder of my high school career. (This was a result that extended well beyond high school, unfortunately.)
It was a few years later, in college, that I got to do any programming again, then in BASIC on an HP 3000 and assembly on an Altair 8800. However, the prior experience in Fortran gave me a head start over everyone else in the class and I never really looked back. My first CS advisor was a member of the Fortran 77 standards committee so I also circled back around to Fortran before I got my batchelors degree.
All of that experience (and more) was tumbling around in my head when time came to produce a lecture title and abstract. It resulted in the title and abstract, below. I gave this talk in the University of Maryland-Baltimore County UCYBR Distinguished Lecture Series earlier this week.
Dr. Eugene Spafford is a professor with an appointment in Computer Science at Purdue University, where he has served on the faculty since 1987. He is also a professor of Philosophy (courtesy), a professor of Communication (courtesy), a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering (courtesy) and a Professor of Political Science (courtesy). He serves on a number of advisory and editorial boards. Spafford's current research interests are primarily in the areas of information security, computer crime investigation and information ethics. He is generally recognized as one of the senior leaders in the field of computing.
Among other things, Spaf (as he is known to his friends, colleagues, and students) is Executive Director Emeritus of the Purdue CERIAS (Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security), and was the founder and director of the (superseded) COAST Laboratory. He is Editor-on-Chief of the Elsevier journal Computers & Security, the oldest journal in the field of information security, and the official outlet of IFIP TC-11.
Spaf has been a student and researcher in computing for over 40 years, 35 of which have been in security-related areas. During that time, computing has evolved from mainframes to the Internet of Things. Of course, along with these changes in computing have been changes in technology, access, and both how we use and misuse computing resources. Who knows what the future holds?
In this UCYBR talk, Spaf will reflect upon this evolution and trends and discuss what he sees as significant "lessons learned" from history. Will we learn from our past? Or are we destined to repeat history (again!) and never break free from the many cybersecurity challenges that continue to impact our world?
I recenty was having a discussion with someone about the Ph.D. option for a degree here. The person said “I don’t want a Ph.D. because I don’t ever intend to do research at a university.” Thus began a conversation about how the Ph.D. may be a requirement for most faculty positions, but it is not a sentence connected to the degree! Furthermore, not all faculty positions are primarily research positions.
As an example, of the 23 Ph.D. graduates for whom I have been primary (co)advisor to date, 11 have spent some time as faculty members but only four are still full-time faculty. Six of them currently reside outside the U.S., and six (an overlapping group) have started their own companies. Seven are C-level executives, and another 10 are in senior director/partner-type positions. It is certainly not the case they are all doing academic research at a university!
The Ph.D. is a way of learning how to focus on a narrow problem, develop a comprehensive plan to solve it, and then present the problem and its solution in a formal, convincing manner. Thus, completing a Ph.D. is a way to hone time management and research skills, dive into an area of interest, and prove one’s capability to manage a big task. That is useful not only for academic research, but for managing projects, running an agency, and solving problems in “the real world.”
I’m proud of all of these graduates for what they did while completing their degrees and then going on to do interesting and important things in their careers. Here’s a list with mention of their most recent position:
I am working with five Ph.D. advisees currently. Four of them are employed outside of academia and intend to stay in those positions after getting their degrees.
If you’re interested in getting a Ph.D. (or an MS) at Purdue related to cyber security, take a look at our information page.
(As a matter of trivia, even though the majority of my former students didn’t go into university positions, there are at least 53 more people who received the Ph.D. with one of the above 23 as primary advisor. Maybe we should start a “Spaf number” similar to the Erdös Number?)
I recently found myself in a conversation where someone made a comment about "Being so old I've programmed in Pascal!" I'm considerably older than that person, and actually did some of my first programming on plugboards and punchcards. I declined the opportunity to point that out at the time.
Upon some reflection, I realize I've had the opportunity (and sometimes, the necessity) to use many, many different languages during my 48 years of programming. I used to find it empowering and instructive to try different programming paradigms and approaches, so I actively sought out new ones. As my workload and schedule have evolved over time, I have not really picked up many new ones. I’d like to learn Swift and Rust (for example) but I'll need to carve out the time and obtain a compiler, first.
For grins, I thought I'd make a list of programming languages where I wrote at least one non-trivial program, where "non-trivial" means that there were subroutines/functions/methods/etc. I may have left a few out, but... (you can find most of these documented on Wikipedia if you haven't run across them before).
I also wrote one small program in Intercal, to prove to myself that I could. I never worked up the courage to tackle Malbolge.
I've also written and debugged patches in microcode on several machines, but I won't claim that I really mastered any of the associated languages.
There may be a few I left out plus dialect/version variations, but that is almost 60 languages as is. I'm sure there are people who have programmed in more; those of us who have been around for a while have needed to adapt.
I don't program very much anymore. I occasionally will whip up a ksh or Perl script, and very rarely, a C program. Those are sort of my default programming tools. If I needed to, I suppose a weekend or two with some language manuals would get me somewhat back up to speed with these others. Thankfully, no one has a pressing need for me to write code for anything, although I'm still pretty good at debugging (errors tend to be the same in any language). I have written four complete compilers and three full operating systems using some of these languages, including one each in assembly language. Thankfully, that is also not on my agenda to do again.
So when "kids these days..." complain about having to learn a 3rd programming language for class, well, I am amused.
Last week, an article appeared in the Washington Examiner that contained a couple of quotes from me. The context of how the quotes were obtained is explained below.
Apparently, some people took exception to aspects of the article and/or my quotes. This was all manifested on Twitter, with outrage, some ad hominem attacks, bombastic comments about unfollowing me, and more. After all, it is Twitter, and what would Twitter be without outrage and posturing?
(Interestingly, despite some unfollows, my Twitter account as of Sunday has more followers than before this happened. Draw your own conclusions about that. As for me, I don't care much how many people follow or not -- I still post things there I decide I want to post.)
I decided it might be worth a short post on how the quotes came about and perhaps addressing a few things from the article.
Earlier in the week, I received a request to contact a reporter. This is not unusual. I regularly am asked by the press to comment on cybersecurity, privacy, cybercrime, and so forth. The university encourages that kind of outreach. I generally try to provide useful background to reporters.
I called the reporter. He told me he was working on a story but couldn't share details. He gave me a very vague description -- basically, that he had some evidence that someone working in cybersecurity for one of the presidential campaigns had a history of associating with racist organizations, trolling, and breaking into computers. He wanted to know what I thought of that.
As I expressed to him, if true, I thought that was a poor choice. I explained that generally speaking, someone in such a position should have been more thoroughly vetted. He then outlined how the person likely had a history of hacking into other people's accounts and asked me what I thought. I stated -- with that as context -- that people with that kind of history are usually a poor choice for positions of trust. A history of breaking the law suggests they may be (note: may) more likely to do it again, thus posing a risk to their employer. Furthermore, I noted that a past that is concealed from the employer opens up the possibility of extortion. Both of these imply an "insider" risk. Given the high stakes of this election cycle coupled with foreign interference, that seemed like a real problem.
My conversation with the reporter was over 20 minutes in length. He quoted two of my statements in the published article. This should not be a surprise to anyone who has ever spoken to a reporter...or to anyone who has written for the press. Lots of material isn't used, including material that may set useful bounds on what is published.
Unfortunately, "hacking" and "hacker" have divergent meanings. One usage means someone who explores systems and capabilities, often finding new and unexpected features or problems. A second usage means someone who breaks into systems without permission, illegally, often causing harm. This dichotomy has been a problem for over 30 years now, and we still haven't resolved it in general usage. There have been attempts to qualify the term ("white hat" and "black hat," terms which have other problems), and using labels such as "ethical hacking," which implies everything else is not ethical. These are not satisfactory solutions.
In the conversation with the reporter, he was continually using "hacking" in the pejorative sense, such as "hacking into other people's computers without their consent." My replies were to that usage and in that context.
To be clear, I understand the difference. I have taught and worked with people who are hackers in a positive sense. At one time, when I had more free time and less arthritis in my hands, I did my own share of system hacking. When performed with care and consent, the hobbyist/exploratory form of hacking is often fun and educational. Hacking of others' systems without consent, to cause damage or harm, is a bad thing.
The people who take umbrage over use of "hacking" should to pay close attention to context to moderate their blood pressure. Furthermore, they should realize that 30 years of use by journalists to denote unauthorized access means that the general public only understands that one definition of "hacking" no matter how they define it. It is now similar to any malware being labeled "computer virus" -- it is unlikely that the term will ever get a more precise definition for public use.
I have worked in the area of professional ethics for over 3 decades. I wrote one of the first articles on the ethics of computer intrusion and contributed to many textbooks in the area. I helped develop the last two iterations of ACM's Code of Professional Ethics. I am chair of ACM's Committee on Publishing Ethics & Plagiarism. I have lectured on the topic at major companies and government agencies. I teach aspects of ethics in classes. It isn't simply a word to me.
Professional ethics have a vital role in defining a profession. They help practitioners distinguish among choices. They help guide us in knowing the difference between what we can do and what we should do. Every major professional organization, across multiple professions, has some form of professional code of behavior.
In the context of this issue, breaking (hacking!) into other peoples' systems without permission is unethical. It is also usually illegal. Trolling people in the form described to me by the reporter is unethical and harmful. And being a bigot is wrong, although a too common evil in society today.
Those of us who work in computing -- and especially in security-related positions -- should be very concerned about how we are viewed by the public. If we want to be trusted, then we need to act in a trustworthy manner. Ethical behavior and knowledge of the law are important, and distinguish professionals from everyone else.
It is in this context that I made this comment: "People who are well respected don't come from trolling or hacking groups. There's been a culture shift there. Companies don't want to hire people with sketchy backgrounds." That is true. The companies I work with -- banks, aerospace, defense, telecommunications -- do not want people who have a history of breaking into systems (note the version of "hacking" here) or abusing others. It is a liability for them. It is also evidence of poor judgment and a willingness to do unethical things, at least at some time in the past. Those activities are grounds for termination from many positions. A history of those things is often an automatic disqualification from hiring -- and is questioned as a standard part of polygraph exams. (No, I'm not going to have a side conversation about polygraph exam accuracy here, but you can see one of my blog posts from 2006.)
Can people who did unethical things reform? Of course! Sometimes people do foolish things and later regret and repent. However, it is also the case that people who do foolish and illegal things usually deny they did them, or they claim to have reformed so they can get a shot at doing them again. Whether one accepts the apparent reformation of the individual is a matter of faith (religious or otherwise) and risk management. As I noted, "Somebody who shows up with red flags would not be allowed to occupy a position of sensitivity." Maybe this denies someone reformed and talented a position. However, it also is a matter of practical risk reduction and is part of the standard of due care by organizations dealing with information of great value.
I was never given the name or specifics of the person mentioned in the article during the interview. I only learned her name after the article appeared. To my knowledge, I have never met her. I have no personal knowledge of her activities. I made no statements attributing any activities to her. So, if you are a friend of hers and bent out of shape because of the article, you really shouldn't take it out on me.
TL;DR. People will bluster and posture on Twitter. I was quoted as saying some things that set a few people off, either because they don't pay attention to context, don't understand how insider threats are minimized, or perhaps because they are friends of the person the article is about. I guess it is also possible they don't like the venue or the political campaign. Whatever the reason, I don't care if people unfollow me, but if people are abusive in their comments I will block them. However, the people who want to try to understand the overall context may find the above useful.
Meanwhile, here is some reading for you: