By Kerri Panchuk
Won’t victory in the cybersecurity war go to whoever has the best technology?
If the digital cyber-defenses of the US government or a company can outsmart the cyber attacks of domestic or foreign hackers, we’re safe, right?
Not necessarily. according to Bo Birdwell and Dowell Stackpole.
These two cybersecurity pros have created Cyber Forward, a North Texas-based company built around what they believe is the critical component in cybersecurity systems: the human factor
“What is unique is we do have this whole organizational view of information security that really starts at a much higher level,” explains Stackpole, Cyber Forward cofounder. “That is understanding what information you have, categorizing the information, and making sure the people who handle the information are properly trained.”
Stackpole and his fellow co-founder, Cyber Forward President Bo Birdwell, have a history of leveraging their education and skills to protect both the government and private sector from cyberattacks.
Stackpole is an engineer who retired from Bass Companies in Fort Worth as chief information security officer.
Birdwell, meanwhile, led teams of cyber operators at both the U.S. Department of Defense and the Citi Security Operations Center. But it’s Birdwell’s time as a cybersecurity expert at the U.S. Air Force that’s at the heart of his company’s first mission.
“We are passionate about protecting American lives,” explains Birdwell.
Birdwell knows from firsthand experience that protecting American lives is not just the federal government’s job, but it is also that of the contractors and subcontractors the government employs to carry out its security mission.
Birdwell and Stackpole also want to protect American businesses.
“America is being bled dry through intellectual property leaking out of the country,” says Birdwell. “We started our company for clients trying to protect controlled unclassified information, which is information that is not classified but should not be in the public domain. The easiest way to get sensitive information from the government is by going against the contractor or subcontractor.”
With North Texas home to numerous defense contractors and subcontractors, Cyber Forward is anticipating a last-minute rush from businesses trying to comply with the imminent implementation of amendments to the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (known as DFARS).
Specifically, the worry keeping defense contractors up at night is a new rule that requires all contractors and subcontractors handling certain Department of Defense (DoD) data to comply with prescribed cybersecurity measures by December 31, 2017.
The rule, which is outlined in Title 48, Section 252.204-7012 of the Code of Federal Regulations, forces contractors and subcontractors working with the DoD to comply with security standards set out in the National Institute of Standards and Technology Special Publication 800-171.
With this change, Cyber Forward expects defense contractors and subcontractors to begin searching for compliance help.
“If they realize they are not ready, then there are not enough cyber workers to get them ready by January,” Stackpole says. “We expect growth once the word is out.”
While Cyber Forward’s founders say full-scale enforcement of the regulation could take a year or two, the result of non-compliance may eventually cost DoD contractors and subcontractors government work.
So what makes Cyber Forward’s strategy different from other technology companies working in the space?
“What we have found is that many people and organizations miss the forest for the trees,” says Birdwell. “You need technical solutions for this work, but it’s not where you are going to succeed. It does not matter how strong your system is if someone clicks on a link and bypasses your security.”
Cyber Forward is focused on analyzing the totality of a company’s cybersecurity plan by offering consulting, training, auditing, and blue prints to ensure clients build holistic solutions that focus on people, systems, and proper data classification.
“We can do this as a trusted agent, or we can train people to do it for themselves,” Birdwell says.
Though defense contractors remain a prime customer for Cyber Forward, any entity with sensitive data to protect is a potential client — from law firms to medical providers and small companies without access to cyber operators.
At the present moment, Birdwell and Stackpole remain committed to building a North Texas company that is focused on cybersecurity’s future, and this future is looking as boundless and endless as cyber space itself.