Back in the early 1990s, Mike Hamilton, an acquaintance made through a shared obsession with USC Trojan Football, asked me if I wanted an email account. This is before the Internet as we know it today, a world of 300 baud (300 bits per second, the standard connection speed today is 3.3 million times faster!), acoustically-coupled (essentially a cradle for the handset part of the old rotary dial phone), dial-up modems that we used to connect to Bulletin Board Systems (BBSs). That was how the world at the time of about 100,000 or so of us went online.
Over two decades later, that single question led to where I am today, to where all the work that Mike, our colleagues, customers, and associates have collectively taken us.
This October, M. K. Hamilton & Associates, LLC is becoming Critical Informatics Inc. This is where we were meant to be, the result, the end-point, the objective, after taking that first step seemingly a lifetime ago now. In 1994, our career in Information Security was two computer geeks with science day jobs pulling all-nighters trying to conjure security products out of our imagination.
Some things that were true then are unheard of today – Firewalls were C code you tweaked yourself and compiled on FreeBSD systems. Linux was still virtually unknown outside of academic circles and folks who watched the Linus Torvalds / Andrew Tanenbaum debate on Usenet. Ironically, much like now, security automation then was cobbled together with AWK and SED and Turbo C Shell (Tcsh) or Bash scripts — funny how other things never change no matter how long ago we adopted them!
We’ve seen it all. No kidding, we really have seen things you would not believe. Things I’ll never be at liberty to talk about. But, all the things I’ve seen, heard and experienced in Information Security are derived from the same existential problem that drew me like a moth to a flame, that intrigued Mike to the point of obsession, and that convinced us beyond any doubt that this will become the greatest problem faced by modern civilization. Technological capabilities always advance faster than our ability to foresee and mitigate the risks resulting from adoption of new technology. For technologies which have broad and lasting effects on our lives, this lack of foresight can be a real challenge.
Simply put, humans, given the choice, will always opt to open a technological Pandora’s Box if there’s an expectation of immediate gratification. The modern Stock Market is now controlled by trading programs whose algorithms are optimized for millisecond short-term gains. A single smartphone can contain essentially an entire digital life — money, music, movies, bank account, sensitive personal information, books, and health records and sometimes with tragic results. Our very existence is technologically balanced on the head of a pin.
Boil it all down and the inference is unavoidable. At this point in human history, the rate of technological advancement proportionally increases the risks to society. Should we be surprised by this, in an age where previously unimaginable technological power is bestowed on anyone with a smartphone? Too late to lament the wisdom of our choices, we must now and for the rest of my foreseeable future deal with the consequences of breakneck change.
So, how does this story, this strange trip end? It’s yet to be written, but my mission, Mike’s mission, the mission of Critical Informatics, is to dedicate ourselves to ensuring the security and resilience of critical information technology infrastructure at the regional and local level. To, as much as possible, anticipate or outrun the furious rate of change.
In our hearts, we truly believe we’re protecting our way of life, our families, our friends and our communities. Somewhere deep inside 20 plus long years ago, I think that’s always been the destination for this long, strange trip we’ve been on.