Alan, a gentle but relentless champion for cybersecurity education, believed that the future of our nation depends on developing a diverse pipeline of trained professionals who can defend digital systems from the ever-growing onslaught of cyber-attacks. This mission became his life’s work, and he constantly strived to find unique ways to identify talent while also expanding opportunities for security professionals to learn and practice their technical skills. Alan’s idealized vision for a safer and more secure future begot his reputation as a man before his time. It’s this vision that became the foundation for creating SANS Institute in 1989. His efforts launched what is now the world’s largest cybersecurity research and training organization, developing more than 40,000 cybersecurity practitioners each year.
Alan was President Emeritus of the SANS Technology Institute (SANS.edu), a teaching organization, separate from SANS Institute, that brought together the world’s top cybersecurity practitioners to train the industry on how to hunt attackers, conduct forensic investigations, and defend critical systems like the power grid, banks, water, and transportation systems. In 2013, SANS.edu became an accredited cybersecurity college and graduate school.
Alan’s commitment to the mission has helped keep SANS focused on having the best security instructors developing the most effective courses. Over the years, we measured the success of every SANS training event by ensuring it met his number one criterion: the student must be able to go back to work and immediately apply the skills learned, not simply be able to talk about it.
Alan wove into the SANS DNA the idea that if you stayed focused on helping the security community fight the good fight, success would always follow. He championed and dedicated SANS resources to improving basic security hygiene as well as growing the number of people joining the cybersecurity profession and security team diversity long before any profit was possible from those efforts.
Alan also testified before the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives and was an initial member of President Clinton's National Infrastructure Assurance Council. He was chosen by President Bush's OMB and the Federal CIO Council as the 2005 Azimuth Award winner, a lifetime achievement award recognizing outstanding service of a single, non-government person to improving federal information technology. People respected him and listened to him because of his open and straightforward agenda: He simply wanted to improve cybersecurity.
In 2010, <i>The Washington Post</i> named Alan one of seven people "worth knowing” in cybersecurity, further cementing his status as an industry icon with an impact far beyond the list of projects with his name posted next to them. For every visible idea, project, or cause that Alan was part of, there are many more that he inspired, started, or led behind the scenes. He was known as a puzzle master when it came to connecting, always knowing just who to call whenever there was a need in the community for collaborative work and driving forward that vision for a better, safer tomorrow. He understood and operated by a fundamental truth, that even against the most high-technology challenges, all meaningful change is driven by inspired people working together toward a common vision; not by talking, but by doing.
Alan co-chaired the DHS Homeland Security Advisory Committee’s 2012 Task Force on Cyber Skills and headed the Task Force on Best Practices in Cybersecurity for the FCC Communications Security, Reliability and Interoperability Council. He was also a member of the NASA Advisory Council. Most recently, he focused on finding ways to lead as many talented individuals as possible to a career in cybersecurity through CyberStart America and the National Cyber Scholarship Foundation, a new organization created to identify cybersecurity aptitude in high school and college students and encourage the development of cyber skills with an entertaining game. Through this initiative, many students from diverse backgrounds found a passion and talent for an industry they never knew existed, and the industry benefitted from greater diversity.
Alan’s peers have said that he made every situation feel like he was drawing you into some sort of grand adventure. His story was shaped by the bad things that he helped prevent as much as by the good things he helped create and support. His passion and contributions to innovation within the cybersecurity field have helped raise global awareness for the industry as a whole. His extraordinary leadership and generous spirit remain instilled in those who had the privilege to know and work with him. His legacy will be carried on by the community of cybersecurity professionals he spent his lifetime encouraging and empowering.
To learn more about Alan’s legacy, please visit https://www.sans.org/about/our-founder/