Lynn McNulty: The grandfather of federal cybersecurity

Editor's note: Lynn McNulty died on June 4, after our June 15 print edition had gone to press. Read our tribute to him here.

For Federal Computer Week's 25th anniversary issue, we highlight some of the people, policies and technologies that have influenced federal IT. Although it is not possible to include all the dynamic and dedicated people who have been or still are a part of this marketplace, we start with some who have left their mark.

“Visionary” is a word that gets thrown around a bit too easily, but colleagues say Lynn McNulty’s early calls for information security have rightfully earned him that descriptor.

When McNulty began to evangelize about the importance of protecting federal information systems in the 1970s, it was a time of little oversight, accountability or security tools. Few took cybersecurity seriously.

“The attitude was that if information was unclassified and not very sensitive, there was no real need to protect it,” said McNulty, who became a consultant after a 30-year career in government. He often faced that attitude as the State Department’s first director of information systems security, where he created that organization’s cybersecurity policy; as security program manager at the Federal Aviation Administration; and as associate director for computer security at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Half the battle in the early days was getting people to understand how security would ultimately benefit them, said W. Hord Tipton, former CIO at the Interior Department and now executive director of (ISC)2, a cybersecurity training and certification organization that McNulty helped launch.

“When you don’t have a catastrophe or breaches or the headlines we have today, it’s much more difficult to get companies and agencies interested in security,” Tipton said. “It gives a new respect to people who had that kind of leadership 25 years ago and the foresight to actually prepare for and predict the problems we deal with today.”

McNulty often got his message across by emphasizing the role of security as an enabler, said Kim Johnson, who worked with McNulty at State and is now senior cybersecurity strategist at the Homeland Security Department.

“He would go to meetings and people would say, ‘I can’t do this because of security,’” she said. “Lynn flipped that argument and always said, ‘You’re going to be able to do online financial transactions or e-mail a sensitive document when you have strong security.’”

McNulty also urged women to pursue technology careers, particularly in cybersecurity, at a time when few considered it a viable employment opportunity, Johnson said. Several women who serve in top government roles today, including Assistant Homeland Security Secretary Betsy Markey, previously worked with McNulty.

Now cybersecurity professionals are part of a separate, distinct career field, a designation McNulty always supported. “I often predicted that we would reach this level, and it has now become true,” he said.

NEXT: Meet a man with a passion for procurement reform.

About the Author

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

The 2015 Federal 100

Meet 100 women and men who are doing great things in federal IT.

Featured

  • Shutterstock image (by venimo): e-learning concept image, digital content and online webinar icons.

    Can MOOCs make the grade for federal training?

    Massive open online courses can offer specialized IT instruction on a flexible schedule and on the cheap. That may not always mesh with government's preference for structure and certification, however.

  • Shutterstock image (by edel): graduation cap and diploma.

    Cybersecurity: 6 schools with the right stuff

    The federal government craves more cybersecurity professionals. These six schools are helping meet that demand.

  • Rick Holgate

    Holgate to depart ATF

    Former ACT president will take a job with Gartner, follow his spouse to Vienna, Austria.

  • Are VA techies slacking off on Yammer?

    A new IG report cites security and productivity concerns associated with employees' use of the popular online collaboration tool.

  • Shutterstock image: digital fingerprint, cyber crime.

    Exclusive: The OPM breach details you haven't seen

    An official timeline of the Office of Personnel Management breach obtained by FCW pinpoints the hackers’ calibrated extraction of data, and the government's step-by-step response.

  • Stephen Warren

    Deputy CIO Warren exits VA

    The onetime acting CIO at Veterans Affairs will be taking over CIO duties at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

  • Shutterstock image: monitoring factors of healthcare.

    DOD awards massive health records contract

    Leidos, Accenture and Cerner pull off an unexpected win of the multi-billion-dollar Defense Healthcare Management System Modernization contract, beating out the presumptive health-records leader.

  • Sweating the OPM data breach -- Illustration by Dragutin Cvijanovic

    Sweating the stolen data

    Millions of background-check records were compromised, OPM now says. Here's the jaw-dropping range of personal data that was exposed.

  • FCW magazine

    Let's talk about Alliant 2

    The General Services Administration is going to great lengths to gather feedback on its IT services GWAC. Will it make for a better acquisition vehicle?

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above