Finding success in security
- By Dan Verton
- Mar 14, 1999
Security professionals, particularly those specializing in Internet security and critical infrastructure protection, learn quickly that maintaining a low profile is the key to success and the lifeblood of the information security trade. However, striking a balance between anonymity and the necessity to push the information technology envelope can be a difficult task.
Rick Forno, a security officer for Network Solutions Inc., struck that balance at an early age. The 26-year-old former senior security analyst at the House of Representatives' Information Resources Security Office found a way to build an impressive resume while maintaining a modest profile as a straight-shooting, no-hype security professional.
In 1996, Forno helped bring the House Legislative Counsel's office into the Internet Age by developing Internet- and intranet-based World Wide Web sites and a reliable e-mail system. Shortly afterward, he contributed to the development of the first official information security program at the House.
Forno said the most formidable task on Capitol Hill was dealing with the diversity of opinion on how best to tackle information security and management.
"The biggest challenge was dealing with the congressional environment of over 500 separate 'chief executive officers' and their respective views on how to conduct business while trying to develop a proper information security program for the enterprise," he said. "Still, it was a very rewarding position, highly visible and a place where I was proud to work."
After making his mark on Capitol Hill at the ripe old age of 24, Forno charted a course for the U.S. Naval War College, Newport, R.I., where he earned a certificate in Defense studies and recognition as the prestigious institution's youngest graduate on record.
"Lots of folks can be cum laude grads, but only one can be the youngest graduate," he said. "So it's a singular record and an honor I am proud to hold. The War College gave me a fantastic education in the national security arena and was by far the best education I've had in the field."
Forno's interest in computer security grew out of his fascination with the intelligence community and the way in which computers are used to communicate raw information, ideas and concepts. When he realized that information had become the "life-blood of the modern world," as he calls it, he knew he had found his niche.
"I soon decided that protecting such critical information was a worthy cause and a fun career," Forno said. "I was right."
Today, he works at Network Solutions, the company that manages the registration services for roughly 75 percent of the world's market in Internet domain names. His primary responsibility includes developing a multidisciplinary security program that addresses the physical, operational, computer-oriented and administrative aspects of security.
"I like the environment, the dynamic pace and ability to get things done in a timely fashion when it's needed," Forno said. "I also like knowing that my efforts benefit the Internet community at large. At Network Solutions, I'm learning a lot about the fundamental operation of the Internet, and I'm in a position to help affect the future of the Internet in a positive manner."
Forno's greatest achievement to date, and one he may never fully receive credit for, is masterminding the concept of the "cybercorps" - a cadre of military reserve cyberwarriors whose sole mission would be to protect the nation's critical information systems from hackers and would-be cyberterrorists. He said the idea came to him in 1997 after he left the War College. A few months later, he wrote an essay on the subject for Cyberwar 2.0, a book published by the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association.
The notion of establishing a reserve corps of cyberwarriors soon caught on throughout Washington, D.C., with the Pentagon asking Forno to develop briefing slides on the concepts in his essay. Last month, Defense Secretary William Cohen formally endorsed the concept with the announcement of the Joint Web Risk Assessment Cell. According to DOD, the cell will monitor DOD Web sites for sensitive information and data that could compromise U.S. military operations or personnel.
Although "the father of the cybercorps" may never get the credit for this idea, he can take comfort in the fact that somebody in the Pentagon was listening. Despite the lack of recognition for an idea ahead of its time, Forno pushes forward.
His most recent accomplishments include co-authoring with longtime colleague Ronald Baklarz a book titled The Art of Information Warfare, which Forno describes as the "first common-sense primer on [information warfare] written for laymen, general readers, corporate executives as well as IT professionals."
"We've tried very hard not to sensationalize the topic but present the real issues, several of which many people and organizations are not even aware of," Forno said. "If the book can help get people thinking more about the human side of security, we've done our jobs."