Chief Information Security Officer, ASRC Federal

When Darren Death had his first introduction to computers as a young man, it was anything but love at first sight. Those were the days of COBOL, Fortran and punch cards. Lots and lots of punch cards.

“I couldn’t stand computers back in those days,” says Death. “I think it was the way the professors were trying to teach the computer courses back then. At the time, there was no such thing as the information technology or computer security degrees we have today. There was only ‘computer science,’ and that meant punch cards.”

Rather than pursue a computer science degree at the time, Death enlisted in the US Air Force. He became an aircraft mechanic specializing in F-16s, and then he cross-trained to be a medical technician in the Air Force. After completing his years of active duty, he joined the Air Force Reserve, and decided to give his computer training another shot. “By that time, computers had changed a lot and I had an interest in working with them,” says Death. He focused on getting his certification as a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer.

His first IT job was as a system administrator for the Baltimore Convention Center. It was practical, hands-on work that gave him good experience. This led to a role as a program manager and network and security engineer for a federal contractor. He designed and implemented IT architectures for various government agencies. It was during this time that Death enrolled at Strayer University in Maryland and attained a bachelor’s degree in Information Technology.

After six to eight years of doing IT engineering and architecture and designing systems for the federal government, Death made a switch into cybersecurity. “By this time, I saw the writing on the wall, that cybersecurity was going to be the next big thing,” he says. “Whereas a lot of IT folks struggle with the cyber stuff, I was trying to focus on all the aspects of cybersecurity as I was designing clients’ systems. I was preparing myself for a new future as well as building the most secure systems I could.”

Death took his first government job as the enterprise information security architect at the Library of Congress. He ran a lot of programs for the CISO at that time. “I ran their secure software development program, their certification and accreditation programs, and their security architecture program,” says Death. “Having to wear many hats, I also was responsible for all the security contracting. I was responsible for all the IT administration for the security side, so I managed all the security tools as well.”

Fast-forwarding to current day, Death is now the CISO for ASRC Federal, a $1 billion defense contractor based in Washington D.C., and for its parent company, Alaska-based Arctic Slope Regional Corp. ASRC is a $3.5 to $4 billion holding corporation involved in construction, oil and gas, refining and distribution, finance, hotels and convenience stores, a travel company, and more. ASRC is the largest private employer in Alaska. Given the scope of the parent company and the federal contractor subsidiary, Death has responsibility for a very diverse amount of work.

Asked what factors contributed to his career growth and his success as a CISO, Death is quick to credit several mentors he has had along the way. “I was very fortunate throughout my career to have some key folks that saw that I had a lot of ability, and they just allowed me to use that ability,” says Death.  “From their perspective, they were program managers, so if I was willing to do a lot of work, they were certainly going to let me do it. On occasion, I got the opportunity to do some projects that I probably wasn’t really qualified for at the time, but I learned quickly. I appreciate all those mentors, all those leaders at the time, that allowed me to do the work because it gave me the experience that I have today.”

He recently published a book, Information Security Handbook: Develop a threat model and incident response strategy to build a strong information security framework. The book features a practical approach towards strengthening your security framework.

Death feels strongly about giving back, so he seeks out up and coming stars that he can help mentor. “I look for people with a hunger to learn who are willing to push the envelope of their abilities. It worked for me, and I want to help others,” says Death.

As for his personal life, he is married and has six kids. He spends his spare time outdoors as much as possible.