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GCN : October 2015
GCN OCTOBER 2015 • GCN.COM 15 Ron Ross got his start in cybersecu- rity by accident. In the early 1980s, while still in the Army, he earned a master’s degree and then a Ph.D . in computer science from the Naval Post- graduate School in hopes of joining a group of military officers familiar with robotic vehicles. But the day before Ross was to start his new assignment, he found out that the person currently in the robotics position would be staying for another year. Ross talked to his buddies, and they suggested he try the National Se- curity Agency. He joined NSA in 1990. “I didn’t know anything about com- puter security at that time, but I had my two advanced degrees,” Ross told GCN. “So I had a good grounding in the fun- damentals of the system and software.” He said he read everything he could about computers, and “I just fell in love with the field. It was such a fascinating area because back in 1990 computers were important but nowhere near as important as they are today.” Today, of course, IT is woven into everything from weapons systems and power plants to the banking system and government records. And Ross is on the cutting edge of keeping all that technol- ogy safe in his current role as a fellow at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and leader of the Federal Information Security Management Act implementation project. He’s the main architect of the Risk Management Framework, a multi- tiered methodology for agencies to integrate FISMA standards. He also co- authored NIST’s security engineering guidelines for federal agencies and the private sector. Ross compared building stronger computer systems to building stronger airplanes or bridges. “We have confi- dence because we trust that competent people designed the bridge and the GOVERNMENT EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR: RON ROSS If the discussion involves information security, NIST’s technology fellow is almost certainly shaping it BY BIANCA SPINOSA airplane,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to achieve in this new publica- tion — helping people get the same kind of confidence in the systems and software they deploy in their day-to- day lives.” Another major challenge for cyber- security is protecting the Internet of Things. Ross raised eyebrows in April when he said the IoT might be indefen- sible, but he said there are ways to de- sign systems to control the complexity. “It’s not a hopeless situation,” he told GCN. “We may have to hang on and be trailing that technological revolution, but we’re going to be close behind.” He said his most satisfying accom- plishment so far is being able to give back to the military and intelligence communities. As leader of an inter- agency partnership among NIST, the Defense Department, the intelligence community and the Committee on National Security Systems, he helped create the Unified Information Security Framework so everyone at DOD and the intelligence agencies could focus on their jobs. “To be able to give back...it’s just very gratifying,” Ross said. “NIST al- lows you to do the work you love to do. I’ve been doing it a long time, and I still love doing it.” • ZAIDHAMID 1015gcn_014-019.indd 15 10/5/15 12:24 PM
January and February 2016