Duo evangelist. Information Security Liaison organizer. Man with the shark hat. Operations team leader. Inaugural-year IT Awards winner. Jack-of-all-trades. Soon, ITS Information Security Specialist Tim Cline will add another description to his name: retiree.
Cline retires December 22 after 11 years with the ITS Information Security Office (ISO) and after a collective 29 years at various IT shops and libraries on campus.
Mixed feelings about leaving
Cline leaves the Information Security Office at a dynamic time. The information security field has surged over the last decade.
“People ask what it’s like working down in the Information Security Office. I say it’s like standing on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise and everything’s coming at warp 9, and people are turning to you to ask, ‘What do we do?’ It’s exciting,” he said. “Every day there’s something new.”
Information security also is now more relevant than ever to people’s everyday experiences and their devices. At social gatherings, if people coax Cline into revealing that he works in information security, they immediately offer something relatable — “I got a notice from my bank just last week about a suspected breach and now I have a new Visa card” — or they chime in about some national information security news they’ve heard, such as the latest with the Russians or the Equifax breach.
“My coming retirement — I do have mixed feelings about it,” Cline said. “Our office is involved in some really exciting projects and I’m fairly central to some of those.”
Degree didn’t exist back then
If Cline and his co-workers in the Security Office had been asked in high school what they would be doing 25 years later, none of them “would have had any sense of where we would be today,” Cline said.
Cline, 60, didn’t go to college to study information security or even information technology. Such degrees didn’t exist then. Instead, Cline entered graduate school in 1984 in comparative literature. But he grew disillusioned with academia and withdrew from the program. In 1987, he got a job with the Health Sciences Library (HSL) when the library was transitioning from paper records to automated systems.
“This was like playing video games,” he said. “I loved it.”
Later, he worked part-time for the Systems Department in HSL. By the early 1990s, Cline was working full-time for the Serials Department at Davis Library. A variety of roles and locations on campus followed: a help desk position with HSL as part of the UNC Literature Exchange (UNCLE) project, computing consultant with OIS, and jobs at Wilson Library and then the Undergraduate Library as part of the IT Response Center. In 2007, Cline started as an intern in the Information Security Office.
ISL and awards among highlights
Cline has managed a number of high-visibility email accounts at Carolina, including email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I was the voice — both spoken and written — of several high-level IT departments on campus,” he said.
Of his work, Cline is most proud of building the Information Security Liaisons group. Tasked with forming the organization in 2008, Cline beat the bushes to get the schools, research centers, administrative units, the Office of Arts & Sciences Information Services (OASIS) and every other campus group with an IT shop to provide a liaison. He found a place for ISL to meet and organized the monthly meetings.
“Over time we built a really strong community of people who supported each other’s initiatives,” he said.
Two awards also were significant in Cline’s career.
In what he describes as “one of the happiest moments of my life,” Cline was honored at the first IT Awards ceremony, held in 1993. He was in good company. Among others, winners included such long-time campus IT notables as Jim Gogan, now Assistant Vice Chancellor of ITS Communication Technologies; Cindy Henshaw, also of Communication Technologies; and Paul Jones, now the director of ibiblio.org and a clinical professor at the School of Information and Library Science.
When Cline worked for the UNCLE project, Henshaw recalled, “we called him UNCLE Tim. He was indeed a ‘funcle’ — fun uncle.”
Cline, she added, “has been so much fun to work with. He always has a quick wit.”
In 2013, at the ITS Employee Forum’s “unsung hero” awards ceremony, Cline was recognized for his “heroic ambassadorship.”
Cline “has always taken the time and energy to acknowledge the work of colleagues across the University and beyond,” said Chief Information Security Officer Kevin Lanning, who is Cline’s boss.
Christie Degener, Assistant Director for Information Access and Discovery at HSL, started working with Cline in 1987 when he was a library assistant in the HSL Acquisitions Department.
“His primary job duty was checking in new issues of print journal subscriptions arriving in each day’s mail — electronic journals were not yet on the horizon — using an automated serials control system called PERLINE (PERiodicals onLINE),” Degener recalled. “After holding that job for two years, Tim moved on other jobs at HSL and elsewhere, but I will always remember his mischievous eye twinkle and big grin, wry sense of humor and quirky take on things — very refreshing.”
When Degener was named HSL interim director in August 2015, Cline “immediately emailed me to express congratulations and support — a wonderful example of his enduring interest in HSL,” she added.
A means for helping people
Cline has relished working with brilliant, high-caliber people in the Information Security Office, and throughout ITS. Borrowing a line from ISO co-worker Michael Williams, Cline said, “Maybe I’m not directly contributing to research that cures cancer or discovers the author of Shakespeare’s plays, but I’m providing support so that the scholars who do do those things can do their work unimpeded.”
From the beginning, Cline said, he wanted to work for a university.
“My father was a professor,” he said. “And I’m pretty much into helping people.”
Dennis Schmidt, Assistant Vice Chancellor for ITS Infrastructure & Operations, attests to that. “Tim is a great person who has always been willing to go above and beyond to help people,” he said.
Cline was one of the first people Schmidt met when Schmidt started working at the School of Medicine more than 20 years ago. At the time, Cline was a senior support technician on the School of Medicine’s help desk team.
When Lanning came to Carolina in 1999, Cline was working at the IT Response Center. Cline “was always a customer-friendly contact who would either solve the problem or provide a warm hand off to someone who could do so,” Lanning said.
“Ironically, it turns out, information security is just my means for helping people,” Cline said.
“I think it’s been one of my biggest challenges,” he added. “Because If you think of helping people and information security, it’s not exactly like the two go together hand and glove. To some degree, our position is like the state trooper who pulls you over doing 87 in a 55-mile-per-hour zone. And he has to be polite and courteous to you and explain that you violated a policy or that what you’re doing isn’t exactly best practice.”
Wearing the shark hat
Cline has helped the campus community. From his years of coordinating National Cyber Security Awareness Month (NCSAM) each October, including fun, student-focused activities in The Pit, some Carolina students would recognize him as the man in the shark hat. He’s educated many campus members about phishing and other information security topics.
“I’ve been working with security events since I signed on in 2007,” he said.
For the last few years of NCSAM, Cline organized lunches to honor information security liaisons and beat the bushes to land well-known speakers for town hall events.
Cline expects co-worker Charlie Mewshaw, who is taking over as NCSAM coordinator, to ramp up activities. Mewshaw and Cline worked together on the 2017 NCSAM.
“I’m very confident that I’m leaving the department in good hands,” Cline said. “Charlie’s got a real knack for this stuff.”
Always steps up
During his years with the Information Security Office, Cline has done it all.
“I’ve done digital forensics, I’ve done network security, which includes intrusion prevention system, intrusion detection system, firewalls and netflow,” he said. “I’ve done vulnerability management, which for our office means Qualys. Of course, I’ve done security awareness and outreach. I’ve done PGP, which is whole-disk encryption. I’ve done PatchLink. I’ve done antivirus. I did RSA, which is authentication, and now I’m the Duo evangelist. Whenever there was a gap, I stepped up.”
“Tim has been on the on-call rotation all the years he has been with the ISO and has also often volunteered for off-hour needs,” said Lanning, who is Cline’s boss.
ISO co-worker Alex Everett has worked many early shifts with Cline. “Tim and I used to do network appliance upgrades early in the morning, then meet at McDonald’s to get breakfast if the change went well, which it almost always did. This often meant going to the basement of Phillips at 6 a.m., using fiber couplers and radioing Jim Gogan,” Everett said.
Since the office was reorganized a year ago, Cline has served as the ISO operations team leader. How Cline thinks of his team’s function is “we kind of undergird everything.” His team triages. The group manages Remedy tickets and email queues and tries to “knock down 50-80 percent of the stuff that comes through the door,” giving the other teams time to deep dive into complex issues. Post reorganization, his group has reduced backlog and increased productivity.
“Here’s how you make a good operations team: You take a guy like me who’s a jack-of-all-trades and has had his hand in lots of stuff, has a good amount of institutional knowledge, knows how to get things done or who to call to get things done,” he said. Then, to his “maturity,” you add people like his team members who have specialized knowledge and have “youth, vitality, innovation and energy.”
Long list for retirement
As he has working at Carolina, Cline will have much — and variety of activities — to fill his time in retirement.
“I have a list of things 10,000 long to work on,” he said
One plan high on his list is to “cultivate my garden,” Cline said, in a reference to the famous quote from Voltaire. Cline lives in Durham County with his wife of 33 years, Wendy. Cline also wants to make a pilgrimage to the Temple of Heaven in the Forbidden City in China.