Exploring digital technology, security, risk, ethics, life


This page serves several functions, but mainly it lets people know who I am.

If you came here looking for my current bio, the first sentence of the following paragraph is the short version. The rest can also be used if you need something longer.

Stephen Cobb has been researching information security and data privacy for more than 30 years, advising companies, consumers, and government agencies on managing the risks of digital technologies. A CISSP since 1996, Cobb has a master’s in security and risk management. Prior to his recent retirement he spent seven years leading a San Diego-based research team for ESET, one of the world’s largest security software companies. 

There is more biographical data on Wikipedia.

If you are an editor or event organizer looking for my headshot, the photos on the right provide a variety of perspectives. To get a high-resolution version just click on the photo and it will open in a fresh tab, from which you can copy or save it (or you can DM me on Twitter (@zcobb). Disclaimer: some photos may be frightening when viewed full-scale.

More than anyone really needs to know

For a start, as you may have noticed from that Wikipedia page, my middle initial is T. While I don’t use T that much, it helps with disambiguation because there are a lot of other Stephen Cobbs out there.

Talking of multiples, I should point out that this is not my only blog. I also publish at Scobb’s Security Blog and at Celtic Curse. However, Cobbsblog.com, 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 tweet as @zcobb. when the topic is security or privacy or other matters of interest to a security researcher. I tweet more personally, and sometimes politically, at @thestephencobb.

Another site where I publish articles is We Live Security. That is 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 total blogging output went past 2,000 posts somewhere back in 2013.

These days I sometimes post articles on two sites that may require membership view: Linkedin and Medium. Those items tend to be professional and policy content, respectively.

Over the years I have I maintained other sites on the interwebs, such as the blog and IMDb entry 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 (with a strong assist from my partner, and fellow Executive Producer, Chey Cobb).

While promoting the film I learned a lot about social media and guerrilla marketing. The film was accepted 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).

Then I blogged about digital marketing as part of my work for Monetate between 2008 and 2011. Monetate is a venture-backed startup that I got involved with back when it had zero paying clients. Over that three year period I managed to average one post per week, as the company grew from 6 people, to over 60 employees serving a client list that includes some of the world’s best known brands.

When Monetate was 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, at the company’s North American headquarters in San Diego. My role enables me to use what I learned about digital marketing and social media 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, back in 2009 I started the Hemochromatosis Facebook page which now has nearly 7,500 followers and is a kind of self-support venue. I started that page because hemochromatosis disabled my partner and we learned that it is the most common deadly genetic condition in America (it’s what really killed Hemmingway).

Fortunately, Cobbsblog can afford to be less serious, a place where I can have some fun, at least part of the time. For example, I could tell you that I’m dead chuffed you have read this far, and I hope you’re not too knackered as a result. For even more information about me, gluttons for punishment may read on (all others should feel free to get on with their lives).

My Life: Edited Highlights

I was conceived in the wake of World War Two, part of the “baby boom” 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 left-handed and color blind and have amusia?)

Professionally speaking, I’m a CISSP or Certified Information System Security Professional. Academically speaking, I have a master of science in security and risk management from the University of Leicester in England and a bachelor of arts in English and religious studies, from the University of Leeds, also in England.

These days I’m semi-retired, exploring the world of public-interest technology. 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.

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).

Accents, Immigrants, and DNA

If you detect an English accent in my writing, it’s because I was born in Coventry, which is in the middle of England. Coventry has been a cathedral city for more than six centuries, and was a place of note for at least 400 years before that. Indeed, it was home to England’s first naked feminist tax protestor, Lady Godiva, who founded a monastery there in 1043. You may hear the accent in the TEDx talk I did a few years ago: A Tale of Two Futures.

More recently, Coventry has given the world the pneumatic tires, the pedal chain bicycle, and Triumph motorbikes, as well as classic car marques like Daimler, Jaguar, and Alvis, as well as the classic London taxicab.

Not content with ground transportation, Coventry also gave the world the turbojet engine, thanks to the genius of Frank Whittle.

When I was growing up in Coventry, it seemed to live and breathe engineering. My grandfather was an engineer who started out operating lathes and milling machines, as were both of his sons.

My father left school at 16 to be an engineering apprentice. During WWII he was an engineer in the Royal Navy. 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. Later he worked at Dunlop, helping to figure out how to make the parts that went into braking systems for everything from cars to jumbo jets.

From the age of 12 to 18 I went to King Henry VIII School for Boys, founded by the king in 1545 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 US citizen for more than half my life.

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. Long before I was born they commissioned a family tree, the one that I put online here. So I have always known who my last 18 great grandfathers were (the short version is that they were all white guys born in England).

More recently I have been checking out my genetic roots via 23andMe and Ancestry DNA. The latter offers an Ethnicity Estimate that pretty much confirms what is obvious to anybody who has met me in person: I’m really white!

To be honest, I was hoping there would be more diversity in there, maybe on my mother’s side. Time and genetics may tell.

What I have come to understand from my research into human genetics and DNA is that the concept of “races” is scientifically meaningless. All humans belong to the human race, and the differences in our outward appearance result from the climate and geography of the parts of the world in which our ancestors evolved, not some inner quality that divides us.

In my spare time

In my spare time I am really boring, I mean I actually enjoy researching and writing in my spare (see ancestry above). Current topics of interest are: neo-luddism, intersectionality, Unconditional Basic Income, and the implications of automation, machine learning, and AI.

But I do find time to watch television, partly to follow Formula One motor racing, but mainly for movies and long form drama, often from foreign countries.

My serious interest in movies goes back to King Henry’s – the school, not the reign – where I joined the Film Club and, thanks to some very progressive teachers, got to see true classics, like Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai and Rashomon, when they were not generally available. Sometimes I would save up to take the train to London to see films that might not make it to general release.

Making your own films back then was very expensive, so I stuck to still photography and saved up to get my first 35MM SLR when I was 17. It was a very basic system and although I’ve been taking pictures ever since, my particular interest has been trying to good shots with basic gear. I took all the photos that appear in the top right of these blog pages. Many of them were taken with an iPhone and many feature Layla, our dearly departed English Springer Spaniel. For many years Layla was my daily exercise and my reason-to-get-up-in-the-morning. Here she is, enjoying the snow: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 posts? I will get busy.