The Online Trust Alliance, which has for a dozen years brought together business leaders from cybersecurity and technology companies to develop technical standards and public audits designed to maximize consumer security and trust online, is merging with the much larger and older Internet Society, the organizations announced Wednesday.
“We are always looking to see what we can do to amplify our efforts,” OTA President and Executive Director Craig Spiezle told CyberScoop, saying that merger discussions had begun after a chance meeting with Internet Society Chief Internet Technology Officer Olaf Kolkman in Austin last October.
Neither organization was really looking for partnership at that time, he said, “One thing led to another.”
The Internet Society was founded in 1992, by two men widely regarded as the fathers of the internet — Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn. It is one of the oldest parts of the so-called internet governance ecosystem — the hodgepodge of nonprofits, professional associations and technical working groups that actually runs the web.
The society is the home of the Internet Engineering Task Force — the body that sets some of the most important technical standards for the ‘net. It also houses the Public Interest Registry (PIR) which manages name allocation in the .org domain, among others.
“Their constituents are the guys who run the nuts and bolts of internet infrastructure,” said Spiezle, “We are involved with the companies who are touching consumers — it’s very complimentary.”
“The Internet Society and OTA share the belief that trust is the key issue in defining the future value of the Internet,” said Internet Society President and CEO Kathryn Brown. “Now is the right time for these two organizations to come together to help build user trust in the Internet. At a time when cyberattacks and identity theft are on the rise, this partnership will help improve security and data privacy for users,” she added.
Spiezle said the merged organization would continue to produce OTA’s annual online security audit and honor roll, and its yearly email authentication and integrity reports. “They recognize the value of our brand and the products we deliver.”
“They really like our approach,” he added, although he demurred at a description of the published audits as a “naming and shaming” exercise.
“We consider it an effective tool to demonstrate the business value of cybersecurity best practices,” he said.
Speizle said he would stay on as a part-time strategic adviser for a year, adding that the other OTA staff were moving over to become Internet Society employees. “They are hiring two of our existing staff and investing new resources. They plan to recruit two more,” he said.
He said the new set up would allow OTA to take advantage of the organizational infrastructure that the Internet Society had, “leaving [OTA] staff able to refocus on core efforts rather than on the operational overhead.”
For example, he said, the society had “a member relations team, they have full time press and social media personnel. … Today, I have to be CFO, CTO, COO, [in addition to my duties as CEO] … This is will be more efficient.”
He added that there might need to be changes to the way both organizations work. “There will need to be a little cultural shift. We are a smaller organization, more nimble. Their decision-making process is a little more deliberate.”
At the end of the day, he said “Everyone is very supportive, everyone wants to make this work.”
“We have shared core values,” Spiezle concluded.