Time passes, and we lose friends
[Note: update added March 15, 2017]
2017 has gotten off to a bad start for the security community…and to me, personally.
First, we lost Kevin Ziese. I met Kevin over two decades ago, when he was involved in computer investigations with the Air Force. I got involved with a couple of investigations, as it was a new field and I had some connections with the Air Force at the time. Kevin later served as a UN Weapons Inspector in Iraq after the first Gulf War. He was at the Pentagon on 9/11. He served in our military with distinction. Later, he was involved with intrusion detection research, and became one of the principals in Wheelgroup, which was acquired by Cisco. He had a significant career in cyber, and made a number of seminal contributions to the field that most current practitioners have never heard about.
Kevin was very creative and an able investigator, but what I remember most about him was his incredible enthusiasm and sense of humor. In all our interactions, I can’t recall him being anything other than upbeat, and with great insight. I regularly crossed paths with him at IDS and computer crime workshops, and in activities for the Air Force. He was also generous with his time, and he found ways to visit Purdue several times to give talks to my students.
I hadn’t seen Kevin for a few years, and was vaguely planning on visiting him in the next year or so. We were overdue to catch up. We had been keeping in touch electronically, and his death was a huge — and sad — surprise to me.
Kevin introduced me, electronically, to Howard Schmidt in the early 1990s, after Howard joined AFOSI. We exchanged email and phone calls for several years until we spoke on a conference panel together and finally met in person. Early on, we discovered we were in sync on a number of things, and continued to enjoy our correspondence and occasional meetings through his time at Microsoft. When he moved to his position at the White House (the first time) in 2002, I visited several times to join in conversations on how to fix some of the cyber security problems of the country. One time, he hosted my family for a Saturday morning breakfast in the West Wing staff dining room, and was so very kind to my young daughter — answering her questions with tremendous patience. Thereafter, we continued to interact in his various roles, and on through his time at the Obama White House. Whenever I’d get to Washington, we’d get together for a conversation, and sometimes a beer.
Twice, Howard came to Purdue to speak in our annual CERIAS Security Symposium. Each time, he told me in confidence that he had decided to leave his position at the White House, and his visit to me each time had cemented his decision. (Thereafter, I got a note from someone who worked with Howard at the WH suggesting that I stop inviting critical personnel to speak at Purdue!)
I have so many stories about my times with Howard and they are all good. He was always supportive and positive, and he was always trying to find a way to make things better for others. He also never let his seniority and distinctions get in the way of helping others. For instance, I fondly recall when the EWF was starting its Women of Influence awards, and they asked Howard and me serve as judges for the first awards. However, to keep with the spirit of the awards (and the restriction on judges), we had to be declared as “honorary women.” Howard and I agreed, even when told that we might need to show up at the awards in skirts and heels as part of the process! We laughed about that in later years — that the reason the awards made it into subsequent years was because we weren’t asked to do that! (And we did view being “honorary women” judges as an honor.)
The last time I saw Howard was in late 2015, when we both appeared on a panel at a meeting at a government agency. For the last 2 years we kept up with occasional social media and email — sort of the reverse of how we met. Howard’s passing was untimely and a shock to many of us, especially so close to Kevin’s.
I attended Howard’s funeral and memorial service last Friday. It was important to many of us to see off an old friend. While there, I got to spend time with one of my oldest and dearest friends, Becky Bace, the “Den Mother of Cyber Security.” Becky was an old friend of Howard’s, too, having met him slightly before I did. (Becky was also a friend of Kevin.) I first met Becky in 1991, at one of the old (now defunct) National Security Conferences. We immediately hit it off, with discussion about mutual interests in security and crazy humor. Becky was the person who got me to move my primary research focus to security, and provided funding for my first security research project in intrusion detection. She involved me in the intrusion detection “guru” workshops she held, and introduced me to others in the field — Becky knew everybody, it seemed.
Over the course of the next 25+ years, Becky and I became good friends, and colleagues in a number of cybersec activities. We served on boards and panels together. We consulted for some of the same companies. She also made sure to introduce some of my students to people working in the field, both to help them enhance their research, and to get researchers to learn about some of the cutting-edge things we were doing in the university. We often called each other to share notes and occasionally gossip that we didn’t want to put in email. Becky regularly visited CERIAS to speak and mentor students. She was especially helpful in mentoring some of our women students and faculty. “Infomom” was bright, funny, and incredibly networked.
I have so many stories about Becky. There was never a time together where we didn’t laugh about something…many things…but also develop some new insight or connection that one of us could use. And every time we were together, we were spinning ideas for how I could find something new to do to break out of the rut I’m often in at the university, and for her to explore as a new career path: I wanted to do more in the commercial world, and she wanted to have an impact in the academic space.
Becky and I both were quite devastated by Howard’s passing, and the funeral was both a very sad time, and a chance to share more laughs with each other with stories about our times with Howard. Thus, it was all the more shock to learn, less than 4 days after I last saw her, that Becky had died suddenly.
In the space of four weeks, I have lost three friends and colleagues, each of whom I have known for over two decades, and one of whom was one of my closest friends. Time passes, and we all have finite time here. Nonetheless, it is always too soon for the people we care about. And it is too soon to lose the people who have spent so much time and effort trying to make the world better for the rest of us.
It is also sobering that these three were people my age. It reminds me that time is passing rather than some entity purposely making the stairs steeper for me each year.
It also reminds me of one of the reasons I have spent my career to date in higher education — it is one of the few vocations where there is some real hope of replacing ourselves, and doing so with better quality than what we are ourselves. But as much as we may try, we will not see any like Kevin, Howard, and Becky again. To paraphrase a mutual friend, if there is a heaven it is going to be much more secure and much more fun than it was before.
Update: March 15, 2017
I have learned that some people had not yet heard of Kevin’s passing, although they knew him. If you want to make a donation in his memory, please send it to one or more of:
If you wish to make a donation in the memory of Howard Schmidt, send it to:
Brain Tumor Research Program
℅ Dr. Connelly
9200 W. Wisconsin Ave
Milwaukee, WI 53226
There will be a memorial service for Becky in Shelby Hall at the University of South Alabama in Mobile, AL on Saturday, March 25th at 1PM. Information on attending and travel are posted here. A memorial webpage will be posted on Becky’s infidel.net website sometime in the next week or so.
A memorial service will also be held in San Jose on April 21. I will post additional details here if I get them.
ACSA's top scholarship in the Scholarship for Women Studying Information Security (SWSIS.org) has been renamed as the Rebecca Gurley Bace Scholarship. Contributions to help support this scholarship are welcomed by sending a check (sorry, no online contributions) to:
Applied Computer Security Associates, Inc
2906 Covington Road
Silver Spring, MD 20910
Checks should be made payable to Applied Computer Security Associates, and note SWSIS Rebecca Gurley Bace Scholarship on the memo line.
All of the above are non-profit, charitable organizations, and your contributions will likely be tax-deductible, depending on your tax circumstances.