While Neal O'Farrell is one of the world's longest serving security and privacy experts, he's probably the least likely expert too.
Neal first got interested in security in 1980 when he was studying marketing in Dublin Ireland as part of his plan to be a dressmaker. It all started when a friend showed him how a floppy disk could be used to steal passwords from a college computer.
Although he's advised governments, banks, the intelligence community, and Fortune 500 companies, he has never written a line of code in his life. Instead, he expected to be the third generation to take over a hundred-year-old family fashion business whose clients included a who's who of the world’s rich and famous – from Coco Chanel and Yves St Laurent to the Duchess of Westminster and the Queen of Siam.
Today Neal is regarded as one of the world’s first security and privacy experts and has been fighting cybercrime and identity theft around the world for more than 35 years. Like so many experts, Neal started his career in the deep end, protecting the networks and secrets of the highest value targets - banks, governments, and the intelligence community. He was also one of the first generation of security entrepreneurs to take on the NSA, an experience chronicled in his upcoming book The Man from Intrepid.
After nearly two decades in data security, communications security, and encryption, Neal was looking for a change. He found it in 2000, when he moved to San Francisco and answered an ad on Craigslist by a security startup seeking a “Content Czar.” The startup was ZoneAlarm (later acquired by Check Point) where Neal was hired on the spot and later became Director of Communications and finally Director of Education.
Since then, Neal has authored more than a thousand blogs and articles, served as Technical Editor for the Hack Proofing series of security guides from Syngress (now Elesvier), and authored the book “Double Trouble – Protecting Your Identity in an Age of Cybercrime.”
Neal is also the Executive Producer of the documentary series In the Company of Thieves that goes inside the world of professional identity thieves, and has appeared on the Discovery Channel's Investigation Discovery series.
Over his 35-year career Neal has worked with governments, the intelligence community, the financial community, Fortune 500 companies, thousands of small businesses and millions of end users and consumers. Neal started his career in security protecting European banks and governments from the first generation of hackers, including winning the first ever contract to encrypt Ireland's entire national ATM network in 1988. He was a member of the first Federal Communications Commissions’ Cybersecurity Roundtable, where he helped develop one of the first online security planning tools for small firms.
He was also the only security expert invited to advise the Congressionally-mandated Stock Act panel in 2013, empanelled to study the security and privacy implications of greater financial transparency by members of Congress and senior federal employees.
Neal is passionate about the importance of educating users to defeat cyber threats, and in 1988 co-hosted with IBM one of Europe's first network security conferences. More than a decade later Neal wrote a series of articles for SearchSecurity.com urging a greater focus on "the human perimeter" as a defense against all kinds of cyber threats. His article "Security Training: A Call To Arms," was selected by SearchSecurity.com as one of the Top 10 Executive Briefings.
In 2001 Neal was invited to Chair the first "Cybercrime on Wall Street" conference hosted by the Institute for International Research (IIR). In 2002 he launched Hacademia, a partnership with security publisher Syngress (now part of Elsevier) to turn their collection of Hack Proofing guides into online security training courses. Hackademia is now part of the University of Washington.
In 2003 Neal helped lead Think Security First!, a unique experiment to raise the security awareness of an entire city – residents, businesses, schools, even the Mayor and city council. Partners in the yearlong initiative included Microsoft, Cisco, McAfee, and AT&T, and received the endorsement of the US Chamber of Commerce, the Department of Homeland Security, and the International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium, Inc. (ISC)².
Neal created Schooled In Security, a non-profit initiative to bring cybersecurity education to high schools and encourage students to pursue careers in cybersecurity to help address the critical national shortage of cybersecurity professionals. He was also a member of the advisory board of California's first Cybersecurity Apprenticeship Program, based in Silicon Valley and is currently a member of the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE) K12 Committee.
IDENTITY THEFT EXPERT
In 2004 Neal was the first expert to train an entire police department in identity theft awareness. He went on to lead the Identity Theft Council, an award-winning non-profit that has assisted thousands of victims of identity theft. Through his work with the Council, Neal has helped set new standards in the way victims of identity theft are treated and supported, and in how law enforcement is trained.
He has worked with hundreds of police departments, Neighborhood Watch groups and community action organizations. He also takes on complex cases referred to him by the FBI and U.S. Secret Service. In 2011 the Council was honored with the 2011 Editors Choice Award from SC Magazine, one of the cyber security industry's most prestigious awards. Previous winners include the NSA.
His book on identity theft has been used by three of the top five U.S. banks to educate their customers on identity theft prevention. Neal is a member of the Online Trust Alliance IoT working group, and in 2015 he was honored as the first ever recipient of the Eigen Award, presented by the International Association of Certified Fraud Examiners at the headquarters of Wells Fargo Bank in San Francisco.
SPOKESPERSON AND SPEAKER
Neal has served as advisor to numerous security firms including ZoneAlarm (now Check Point), Surf Control (now Websense), Ntru Cryptosystems, Securify, and SiteLock, and identity protection firms like PrivacyMatters, EZ Shield, IdentityGuard, and Credit Sesame. He was an advisor to Civic Technologies, a Silicon Valley startup using blockchain to solve identity verification challenges, and is currently an advisor to Adaptable Security and a Fellow of the EP3 Foundation.
Neal has taught security to numerous audiences including Facebook, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, Ameriprise, Stifel Nicolaus, Merrill Lynch, US Bank, US Trust, BKR International, the Credit Union National Association (CUNA), and the National Association of Secretaries of State, as well as the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, the High Tech Crimes Investigators Association (HTCIA), the California Financial Crimes Investigators Association (CFCIA), the California High Technology Crime Advisory Committee (HTCAC), and the International Association of Financial Crimes Investigators.
Neal has been quoted in numerous publications around the world including the New York Times, Forbes, Inc., the Wall St. Journal, the Huffington Post, CNN Money, BusinessWeek, USA Today, SmartMoney, CNET, Information Week, the National Law Journal, Today.com, NBC, CBS, CNBC, Fox Business, and the South China Morning Post.
Foster Warriors is one of Neal's passions, a non-profit initiative to give foster youth and young adults an opportunity to pursue studies and careers in cybersecurity, and with all the essential support they'll need. Learn more.
On the less serious side
- In the true spirit of the Irish immigrant, Neal came to America by boat, helping to crew a newly-built Beneteau yacht from a shipyard in France, across the ocean in the middle of winter, to its final destination of Tortola in the US Virgin Islands.
- His grand uncle, author Michael Farrell, made Maureen O'Hara's first movie, in 1934, when she was 14 years old.
- His cousin Michelle Dockery played Lady Mary Crawley in the hit TV series Downton Abbey.
- When Neal was seventeen years old, he ran away from home, hitchhiked across Europe, and ended up in Marrakech Morocco.