This story appeared on the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) Nucleus page. INL is one of the three national laboratories that is partnering with universities nationwide including Mason to form CyManII (Cybersecurity Manufacturing Innovation Institute). CyManII will have space on Mason's Arlington Campus. Tudor earned his MS in Information Systems in 2001.
When he got a call from a headhunter in 2016 to interview for a job at Idaho National Laboratory, Zach Tudor didn't rate his chances as all that high.
“I actually started laughing," he said. He figured he had been added to the list of candidates to round it out and make it more diverse. Still, he was game. “I had a lot of friends in Idaho Falls, so I thought it might be nice to have dinner and catch up with them," he said.
Then he realized INL was serious. “I had to readjust, but I thought, 'If they're crazy enough to offer me the job, I'm crazy enough to take it.'"
Today, as associate laboratory director for National & Homeland Security, Tudor manages 800 employees and subcontractors and administers a research and engineering budget of more than $400 million a year. He directs the lab's work in cybersecurity and resilience, nuclear nonproliferation, and armor material science.
This year, Tudor has been given the Career Achievement in Government Award at the Black Engineer of the Year Science Technology Engineering Mathematics (STEM) Conference. The ceremony is sponsored by Career Communications Group, which publishes US Black Engineer & Information Technology Magazine. The event, held virtually this year, recognizes exceptional leaders from government and industry whose actions have energized corporations and communities to create connections between minority students, educators and professionals in the STEM fields. The event has been held every year since 1987.
Tudor's achievement isn't bad for a kid from Brooklyn who enlisted in the Navy because the prospect of more school didn't excite him. Not that he was poorly educated. Tudor attended Stuyvesant High School, one of New York City's four public magnets and the alma mater of four Nobel laureates. Geneticist Eric Lander, now science adviser to President Joe Biden and director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, was a year ahead of him.
On nuclear submarines, Tudor's facility with computers eventually got him to the rank of Chief Data Systems technician. As a person of color in the Nuclear Navy, he found officers interested in his abilities and eager to help him advance. He mentions now-retired Lt. Cmdr. Tina Caston as an influence (“She definitely would walk the walk") as well as Charles Bolden, an astronaut later named administrator of NASA by President Barack Obama (“Talk about an inspiring guy"). But nobody had more of an impact on him than Anthony “Tony" Watson, the first black submariner to be promoted to the rank of rear admiral.
It was Watson who encouraged Tudor to seek a commission and took him on as an aide. Before leaving the Navy, Tudor rose to the rank of lieutenant. At the end of his service, he earned a master's degree in information with a cybersecurity concentration from George Mason University, where he also was an adjunct professor teaching graduate courses in information security.
In the decade or so that followed, Tudor built a resume that lists positions with Securicon (Homeland Security Services director), SRI International (Computer Science Laboratory program director), Security Innovation Network (advisory board member), and (ISC)2's Application Security Advisory Council (member, now board of directors chair).
The period corresponded with a growing awareness of the threats of cyber espionage and cyber terrorism posed to the United States' industry and infrastructure. If executives were slower to recognize the potential for trouble, the December 2015 cyberattack on the Ukrainian power grid, in which 230,000 people lost power, was a giant warning flare.
“Industry had a view that cyber experts were pushing fear, uncertainty, and doubt," Tudor said in August 2019 at the SCADA Security Scientific Symposium. “Suddenly we're being attacked, and the people that were naysayers before are now scrambling to find resources, technologies, and methodologies to go and do these things that we have been pushing for the last 15 years."
INL is in a great position to help with industrial control cybersecurity, but there is no “perfectly cut cookie" for everyone. “A lot of us have a passion for what we see as the problem, but we don't know how to put it into that context that executives are going to really understand," Tudor said. “So you have to take a step back and say, 'What is the business case that this boss cares about that I can put my perspective on the problem that I see?'" The key is to develop a value proposition.
While detection and defense are important, Tudor sees response as the most important part of cybersecurity. “My view is that we're all hacked and we need to admit it. We need people who can look inside our active networks now, understand what's going on in there and be able to respond," he said. “I don't think the opposite of fragile is anti-fragile. We've tried hardening, and I think we've decided that being resilient is more the way."
The need for new talent is pressing. “We need those trained folks, because our adversaries are not taking time off," Tudor said. At INL, he has been an advocate for developing a curriculum that gets young people into the workforce quickly. Mentoring is another aspect that can always be developed more. “I've had some wonderful mentors and some great opportunities, and it really helps," he said.
At INL, Tudor has led efforts to increase minority representation in its hiring and its internship and fellowship programs. Through the Graduate Degrees for Minorities in Engineering and Science fellowship program, he has provided career mentorship to students brought to the lab from historically Black colleges and universities. In the community, he has supported and sponsored important cultural activities through the Idaho Falls African American Alliance, the Idaho Falls Arts Council, and the Museum of Idaho.
Amused as he might have been when he was invited to interview at INL, Tudor says he sees great opportunities for the lab across the board. “This is one of the best positions in the country for cybersecurity," he said. “The impact we have is tremendous, and I'm glad to play a part."