Cool as McCumber

Bringing back the good old days


It’s amazing what a decade will do to a market — especially in the ever-changing world of security. Back during the dot-com craze of the mid to late 90s, IT security was a hot commodity. Individual security researchers and developers such as Peter Norton, John McAfee and the team of Rivest, Shamir and Adelman (of RSA fame) gave birth to technology behemoths still featuring their names long after most technologists forgot who they were or what they looked like. Tiny garage and dorm-room startups brought us the network firewall, the intrusion detection system and public-key encryption schemes.

As rapidly growing technology companies of the era such as Cisco, Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard and IBM began shelling out hundreds of millions of dollars to acquire these fledgling technologies, big money flowed into security start-ups by investors looking for their piece of the pie. It seemed as if every creative IT engineer, computer science graduate student and Radio Shack hobbyist was hanging out a shingle to pitch the next big IT security product. Some hit it big — most did not.

New media outlets such as Wired magazine and Red Herring became status symbols for corporate vice presidents as well as commuters and desk-bound computer geeks. Reports of multi-million dollar launch parties in Silicon Valley made headlines all across the country. One day, you are an unappreciated technician hacking around your corporate network; the next, you are hiring the Rolling Stones to play at your IPO party. It was a dream that seemingly anyone could turn into a reality.

Then came the big bust of 2001. It was as if a giant economic vacuum had sucked the life (and money) out of the entire market. The bubble had burst. The handful of visionaries who made it big counted their blessings, and the ones who had carefully managed their money were able to chase other pursuits. The rest of us went back to a less joyous reality of corporate jobs, consulting and managing the pipeline to ensure we had enough work to pay the bills.

It has been more than a decade since the bust. As new opportunities were just beginning to sprout, we were slammed by the recession of 2008. We are still dealing with fallout from the worldwide financial crises and seemingly endless economic bad news. There have been massive layoffs in both public- and private-sector organizations, and even with all the new technology, IT and security people have not been spared.

However, underneath this dreary overcast of despair, there have been stirrings of a revival in the need for new security technologies. Most of the big software, hardware and chip manufacturers that bought up the security start-ups over a decade ago have found it difficult to keep up with that handful of technology companies who have seen dramatic growth: namely, 21st century pioneers such as Apple, Google and Facebook. These companies did not just introduce new technologies — they are revolutionizing the way we interact with information and each other.

Over a decade ago, IT security was mostly concerned with creating, managing and defending the organization’s digital boundaries. All those creative new companies that are rocketing in stock price are busy knocking those boundaries down. My wife’s iPad has become her go-to technology device and is quickly replacing her laptop. My new Android-powered cell phone/PDA is no longer a phone with integrated calendar and messaging. It’s my digital world in the palm of my hand. I use it as a phone, a complete corporate and personal scheduling tool, and my life’s worth of contacts. It can tell me how to get to my hotel in a new city, locate a local sushi bar, recommend a dry cleaner, show me tomorrow’s weather and find me an all-night pharmacy for some cold medicine.

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