GRC Viewpoint

Alan Paller, A US Cybersecurity Expert with Great Ideas, Zeal, and constant action

Cyber threats are not anything new as far as the US is concerned. The history of cyber threats can be traced back to the late 1960s. 

It was 1969. A UCLA professor, Leonard Kleinrock, together with his student Charley Kline sent an electronic message, which was later identified as the first-ever electronic message. The message was sent to a Stanford Research Institute based programmer. The intended message was ‘login’, but the receiver system crashed just with the letters ‘lo’.

It hardly took two years after this incident to discover the first-ever virus by Robert Thomas, a Cambridge-based researcher. 

Since then, the cyber security space has never been totally secure. In the current technologically advanced world, viruses are deadlier, increasingly invasive, and much harder to control. The techniques involved in cybercrimes are altering constantly and the need to develop secure methods is more important than ever.

Focusing on the US, a notable cyberattack in recent times would be the one involving the United States Department of Justice. The department in September 2021 sentenced Ghaleb Alaumary to about 11 years in prison. He has been accused of collaborating with North Korea to carry out a money-laundering drive. 

There has been an alarming increase in the number of cyber security threats in the US and across the globe, forcing the governing bodies to adapt innovative and time-specific security measures.

The US cybersecurity space is undergoing a turbulent period. Amidst these, the death of Allan Paller, a US cyber security pioneer on 9th November, is a huge setback to the nation.

Allan Paller, a digital defense security veteran passed away at the age of 76 at SANS, a world-recognized cyber security establishment founded by him. The exact cause of his death is yet to be disclosed to the public.

He devoted his life to identifying, training, and developing the next-gen digital defense experts who can be entrusted with the responsibility of safeguarding the country against cyberattacks.  

Extending a Different Approach towards Cyber Security:

His approach towards cybersecurity anchored on ethical rigor, expertise, and zeal were critical in bringing the much-needed and highly skilled cybersecurity experts into the highly turbulent cybersecurity arena.

He was one of the early visionaries to foresee the enormity of the cybersecurity vulnerabilities for the US. He was aware of the country’s limitations and strengths in the war against cybercriminals. 

Paller was also focused on the country’s cybersecurity workforce crisis. The below data would clarify how massive the problem is. 

Statistically, there are about 3.5 million open cybersecurity jobs, as per a data by Cybersecurity Ventures. Such a massive gap is totally destructive because of the ever-increasing cyber security vulnerabilities. In 2014, the number of unfilled jobs stood somewhere at 1 million. 

According to Paller, despite the urgency, it wouldn’t be easy for the nation to tackle the employment gap urgently. The United States is a free-market society. Unlike several other countries such as Russia, the US lacks a forced or required conscription policy. Further, fewer technical experts prefer the cumbersome task of defense at the federal, state, or local agencies.

Paller always emphasized the potential of a less susceptible cyber security space for a technically powerful future of the US. He also believed developing next-gen cybersecurity experts ready to face future challenges would be the aptest way to bridge the employment gap and also to address the ever-altering cyber threats.

The SANS Institute, established in 1986, is the world’s biggest cybersecurity training and research firm, developing about 40,000 cybersecurity experts each year. After his graphics software firm, ISSCo, went public in 1987, Paller started focusing heavily on extending specific, detailed, and talented cybersecurity education.

At the time of his death, he was the president emeritus at the SANS Technology Institute, a teaching organization that has successfully brought together the top cybersecurity experts as instructors. The teaching methodology was anchored on identifying cybercriminals, carrying out requisite forensics, and safeguarding critical systems.

“Our ability as a nation to maintain our technological leadership depends on building a sufficiently large pipeline of talent beyond the people already going into cyber.  A vein of elite but hidden talent runs through the population.” Said Paller, in a New York Times interview, last year.

It is imperative to mention his dedicated efforts towards bringing more women cybersecurity experts into critical roles. 

Associating with the Governing Bodies

Paller’s work extended well beyond the information security space and further into federal agencies.

Way back in 2009, Paller strongly recommended that the Department of Homeland Security form a cybersecurity workforce expert task group. The task force, set up in 2012, later became the first-ever formalized effort to create a highly agile cyber security workforce.

“He was relentless in his pursuit of real, measurable, ways to reduce our vulnerability to the growing onslaught of threats — an effort made even more urgent as people and businesses everywhere have grown now wholly reliant on IT and access to the internet. Alan had a keen eye for important issues and, even more, for the people and skills needed to turn thought into action.” These are words of appreciation from Jane Holl Lute, former deputy secretary, Homeland Security. 

Paller testified before the American Senate besides the House of Representatives. In addition, he served as a member of the National Infrastructure Assurance Council during the term of US president Bill Clinton. He was also associated with the NASA Advisory Council.

Furthermore, Paller also directed and co-chaired cybersecurity taskforces.

Recently, Paller served as president at the National Cyber Scholarship Foundation, an enterprise developed to locate and support technical talent among high school students and students belonging to community colleges.

Early Life and Education:

Alan Terry Paller was born on 17th September 1945, in Indianapolis, the US. His parents were Benjamin and Ruth Paller. Benjamin Paller was an engineer, and his mother used to be an English teacher.

Paller completed his studies in computer science and engineering at Cornell University. Later, he enrolled in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for a master’s in engineering degree in 1968.

Related Articles

Latest Articles