Stephen Cobb, Blogger, Security Researcher, and More

Hi, I’m Stephen Cobb, and this is my blog. Welcome!

If you came here looking for my current bio, try this: Stephen Cobb has been researching computer security and data privacy for 25 years, advising companies, consumers, and government agencies on the protection of sensitive data and systems. Cobb has been a CISSP since 1996 and currently leads a San Diego-based research team for security software maker ESET. He is also working on an MSc. in Criminology at the University of Leicester in England.

If you are looking for my professional headshot, scroll down and click on the old guy wearing a tie (warning: it’s a really big picture with lots of realistic high resolution detail, and actually looks quite gritty if you convert it to greyscale).

I write a couple of other blogs, notably Celtic Curse, and Scobb’s Security Blog. However, Cobbsblog, right here, is my personal blog, where the topic of each post is whatever I feel moved to write about (and the opinions expressed are entirely my own). When I don’t have time to write blog posts, I tend to tweet. You will find me @zcobb.

I also blog at We Live Security as part of my day job (actually, it’s my day and sometimes evenings and weekends job, but it’s all in a good cause). I figure my blogging output went past 2,000 posts some time in 2013. That’s about when this headshot was taken (click it for a high def version, seriously, PR folks sometimes ask me for one).

scobb-color-headshotOver the years I have I maintained other sites on the interwebs, such as the blog and website for the civil rights documentary Dare Not Walk Alone, which I had the honor of producing with my good friend, Jeremy Dean, the Brooklyn-based artist, and Florida video entrepreneur Richard Mergener. I also learned how to do social media marketing to promote the film, which played at many festivals, won an award, and was recognized as one of the top documentaries of the year by the NAACP (complete with after-party at the Beverly Hilton).

I even blogged about digital marketing as part of my work for Monetate between 2008 and 2011. Monetate is a venture-backed startup that I started helping out when it had zero paying clients. Over that three year period I managed to average one post per week, as the company grew from 5 guys + 2 founders, to over 60 employees with a client list of top name retailers.

When Monetate was well on its way to success, I decided to get back to my main career: information security. And back to my favorite state: California. In September 2011, I went to work for ESET, the global security software firm, at the North American headquarters in San Diego. My role enables me to combine all that I learned about digital marketing with the movie and Monetate to further a cause that has long been dear to my heart: protecting the security of systems and the privacy of data.

Speaking of things dear to my heart, a few years ago I started the Hemochromatosis Facebook page which now has over 4,500 “fans” and is a kind of self-support venue. I started that page because my partner of 29 years was disabled by, you guessed it, hemochromatosis: the most common deadly genetic condition in America.

Fortunately, Cobbsblog can sometimes afford to be less serious, a place I can have some fun. For example, those letters below my picture stand for: Aging Boomer, Bachelor of Arts (with Honours), Certified Information System Security Professional, Middle Aged White Guy, and Fellow of the Color Blind Left-handed Association. BTW, you say it like this: ay-bee, bee-ay ons, sisp, more-guh, eff-see-blah. Of course, BTW stands for by-the-way. For even more information about me, gluttons for punishment may read on (all others should feel free to get on with their own lives).

My Life: Edited Highlights

I was conceived in the wake of World War Two, part of the boomer generation, a demographic phenomenon born of nature’s attempt to replenish the species after suffering 60 million deaths in less than 6 years. Like many boomers I grew up thinking I was special, only to find there were a ton of other people, my age or slightly older, who also thought they were special. (My therapist says I’m making progress in my efforts to get over this but I still have a tendency to point out the things that make me different–did I mention that I’m both left-handed and color blind?)

Professionally speaking, I’m a CISSP or Certified Information System Security Professional. For a while I was the CSE–as in Chief Security Executive–for the world’s largest supplier of wired and wireless broadband to hotels, conferences and business travelers.

Stephen CobbThese days I’m a security researcher. In the past I founded several companies in the computer security and data privacy space. There was InfoSec Labs, a widely-respected security consulting firm. Then there was ePrivacy Group which created programs, standards, and products to protect email from abuse. We created Spam Squelcher, the first anti-spam router, which went on to become TurnTide, which was bought by Symantec and lives on in many of their network security devices. Over the years I did quite a bit to help email marketers increase response and conversion rates by protecting their trusted relationship with consumers.

Before all that I did a lot of writing for computer magazines (one year I put out 12,000 words a month, every month, for 12 months). And before that I wrote a bunch of books, mainly about computers, starting with a 700-page manual for a flat file database, complete with graphics and pivot tables (which I wrote for McGraw-Hill in just over 10 weeks).

Around the middle of the last decade I got involved in independent film production, affordable housing, spousal care-giving, and trying to find time to have a life. Unfortunately, the affordable housing turned into non-profit housing and then into serious-loss-making housing. (If you’re looking for the face of foreclosure in America, just look at the faces on this page.) Sadly, due to the gross veniality of morally bankrupt bankers I, like a lot of other people, lost everything in the ‘oh-eight’ real estate crash (you can read more about the scams and frauds and other immoral acts of these scumbags here, here, and here).

Accents, Immigrants, and DNA

If you detect a strange accent in my writing, it’s because I was born in Coventry, England, home of the pedal chain bicycle, Triumph motorbikes and cars, Daimlers, Jaguars, black cabs, and the first naked feminist tax protestor (Lady Godiva). My father was an engineer, first in the Royal Navy and later for Dunlop. For a while he worked for the Renfrew Aircraft Company in Canada, which is how I came to cross the Atlantic at the age of six.

I went to King Henry VIII School, founded by the king himself with funds acquired from closing down monasteries. Then I attended the University of Leeds (where The Who recorded the Live at Leeds album). I was in the School of English at the same time as Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits and I roomed with Steve Donnelly, one of the world’s most prolific session guitarists (he did all the music for this cult classic).

I spent a year as a graduate teaching assistant at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada (topic: Philosophy of Religion). In 1976 I emigrated to America and I’ve now been a U.S. citizen longer than the former governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Speaking of being an immigrant, one of my enduring interests is where I came from. Thanks to the efforts of my grandparents I had a head start on the history of the Cobb family of Kent. For a long time now I’ve been of the opinion that most of the Cobbs in the world are related, starting with the ones on my family tree, the one that I put online here. From that tree, and from Kent, many Cobbs branched out, headed for distant lands, like America, Australia, and New Zealand. They truly did go forth and multiply. But with whom? I found myself wondering where my mother’s family tree might lead. So as soon as DNA testing offered to shed light on this topic, I signed up. First getting my mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) tested in 2000, then my Y-chromosome a few years later. I recently submitted some DNA to 23andMe and will be sharing the results on this blog.

Was It Worth It?

So what is the thing I’m most proud of doing? I think it was backing the documentary Dare Not Walk Alone. One of the best moments of my life was when an elderly woman in a movie theater in Lithonia, Georgia, came up to me after a screening of the film, hugged me, and with tears in her eyes said: “God bless you for making this movie.”

I remember thinking, “Right, if I get hit by a bus tomorrow, it will be okay. I did something worth doing.” However, I’m not one to take needless chances, so for the next three years I lived on a hill in a very rural part of upstate New York that did not have bus service. There were no broadband lines either, so I adopted one more cause: universal rural broadband access. I tried to do my bit for RuMBA, the Rural Mobile Broadband Alliance, including creation of a white paper that shows why satellite Internet service is no substitute for real broadband connectivity.

Now that we live in San Diego, there are city buses to watch out for, as well as trolleys, but we can finally watch YouTube videos and movies on NetFlix, something that is practically impossible when your only option for Internet connection is satellite.

When I do find time to unwind, I like to shoot targets and make things. In 2008, I built a heated cat house for our cat, Katty Kay. However, it did not meet her expectations and she left. But then we acquired a pair of American Bombays, pure black parlor panthers who are good at mousing and cuddling. A brother and sister, we named them Wug and Bink, respectively. Sister Bink took off for parts unknown, but Mr. Wugs stuck around and we found him a good home out in the country before we left New York.

I also shoot photographs as well. I took all the shots that appear in the top right of these blog pages. Many of them were taken with an iPhone and many feature Layla, our English Springer Spaniel. For many years Layla was my daily exercise and my reason-to-get-up-in-the-morning. Here are two photos of Layla, the first is Christmas, 2004, when she first arrived in our life, and the second is several years older, enjoying the snow:

Puppy Layal

Layla in the snowSo, there you have a long and rambling collection of edited highlights, ending with a cute doggy photo. What more could you want? Maybe some more blog links?. I can’t promise to keep them all current, but here you go: