A Fourth of July Message from TAG Cyber

A student once asked me what I thought to be the earliest beginnings of cyber security. With no good answer, I began poking around, and eventually stumbled onto a startling historical event that seemed relevant to the question. It occurred in 1861, just miles from my alma mater, Dickinson College, which is located in that central portion of Pennsylvania unfairly dubbed by James Carville as the “Alabama between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.”

What happened was this: Abraham Lincoln was traveling East by train to take his oath of office when word was received that assassins were waiting to murder him in Baltimore. Because the threat was deemed credible by his handlers, a plan was quickly hatched to have Lincoln deliver his scheduled address in Harrisburg, but to have him diverted afterward to a separate train. (Mrs. Lincoln, by the way, was furious with the whole thing.)

Now, the cyber portion of the story goes as follows: To protect their plan, Lincoln’s team sought to ensure that news of the diversion would not reach the assassins. So they arranged for the telegraph wires from Harrisburg to be intentionally severed. The assassins were thus kept in the dark and the plot worked. This event, in my opinion, might have been the first-ever electronic denial of service event on a communications network. Awesome.

It seems appropriate on this Fourth of July to reflect on the vibrant and colorful stories from our nation’s past. Such stories provide a window into our collective soul – and I can think of no better time to try to understand who we are as a nation. Do you notice, for example, that we tend to allow historical details to drift slightly? Well, consider this: The actual separation date for our thirteen colonies from Great Britain was . . . July 2, 1776. (Look it up.)

It also seems appropriate today to focus on Lincoln’s time in office, perhaps the most melancholy of any President. It’s insightful to ponder, for example, how during the 1860 election, not a single vote – not single one – was cast for him from the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. The split in our country was deep, and it took a war to sew things back together.

Today, most Americans feel similarly divided. And just as James Buchanan (my fellow Dickinson College graduate) did little to address the problem, our current leadership seems intent to stoke the division. But politics be damned. We of the cyber security community need not be guided by what goes on in Washington or in some dysfunctional State House. We should be self-governed by principles that transcend divisive politics.

On this sacred holiday, I would ask that each cyber security practitioner working in the United States, regardless of political belief, find some way to celebrate our common bond. As purveyors of critical infrastructure protection, and as the select group of experts that enables innovation and growth through security, we are a tight group with an important and meaningful mission. Let’s all take time on this holiday to strengthen that bond.

Here’s what I hope you do: I know that you must have some colleague – perhaps it's an associate, vendor, peer, or subordinate – with a position on politics different from your own. Well, perhaps you might choose to contact that colleague today and sincerely wish them well. Offer a message of kindness. Be guided by Abe Lincoln, who composed the most beautiful phrase by any American leader: “With malice toward none, and charity for all.”

Your outreach need not be confined to our community, by the way. I have a neighbor, for example, who is clearly furious. Perhaps it is from sickness, or some other loss, but I know that he is wrapped in fury. I watched recently as he angrily planted twenty Trump signs across the front of his lawn. When vandals defaced them with graffiti, his display was soon replaced with fifty new signs. If he could sit on his porch with a gun, I suspect he would.

Despite the fact that I differ from my neighbor in politics and (ahem) preferred lawn décor, I do have some nice ripe tomatoes in a basket on my kitchen table. Now, I wonder if, on this Fourth of July, I might muster the courage to bring these tomatoes to his house. Not for throwing, by the way – but for sharing, the way neighbors do. If you are an American reading these words, I hope you will consider some similar action. It’s how we heal.

On behalf of our entire team at TAG Cyber, we hope that you stay safe, and that you have a happy, healthy, and secure Fourth of July.