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.

FCW in Print

In the latest issue: Looking back on three decades of big stories in federal IT.


  • Anne Rung -- Commerce Department Photo

    Exit interview with Anne Rung

    The government's departing top acquisition official said she leaves behind a solid foundation on which to build more effective and efficient federal IT.

  • Charles Phalen

    Administration appoints first head of NBIB

    The National Background Investigations Bureau announced the appointment of its first director as the agency prepares to take over processing government background checks.

  • Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.)

    Senator: Rigid hiring process pushes millennials from federal work

    Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said agencies are missing out on younger workers because of the government's rigidity, particularly its protracted hiring process.

  • FCW @ 30 GPS

    FCW @ 30

    Since 1987, FCW has covered it all -- the major contracts, the disruptive technologies, the picayune scandals and the many, many people who make federal IT function. Here's a look back at six of the most significant stories.

  • Shutterstock image.

    A 'minibus' appropriations package could be in the cards

    A short-term funding bill is expected by Sept. 30 to keep the federal government operating through early December, but after that the options get more complicated.

  • Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco

    DOD launches new tech hub in Austin

    The DOD is opening a new Defense Innovation Unit Experimental office in Austin, Texas, while Congress debates legislation that could defund DIUx.

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

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group