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As you undoubtedly are aware, we are in the midst of Women's History Month. It is a wonderful sentiment, but one that lends itself to what we identify within our own industry, why just a month? Why just 24% (or so) of women in our industry? Why not more on both accounts? We actually share women's history around the dinner table all year long in my home. As an alumna of a women's college with two teenage daughters, sharing and promoting the roles of women in our society are of utmost importance. In fact, I've stepped back a bit in my role as my oldest chose to attend one of the Seven Sisters, historically women's colleges, and my youngest is finding her own voice as a young woman. It's not just the women in our family who do the sharing, my husband is a terrific ally and supporter for women in technology and in life.
I thought I'd take a look at some of the pioneers of our industry this month. Some we all know, some are less known, others contributed to computing or math which are not directly cybersecurity, but where would cybersecurity be without computing and math? So, let's take a brief stroll down memory lane and give a nod to Ada Lovelace, Marsha Rhea Williams, Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, Dorothy Denning, and Becky Bace. This is far from a complete list of epic women contributors to our field. I thought a sampling of women who have helped shape our industry is a good place to start some dinner table conversations for others.
Who's thought of as the first programmer?
Ada Lovelace: The daughter of famed poet Lord Byron, Augusta Ada Byron, Countess of Lovelace — better known as "Ada Lovelace" — showed her gift for mathematics at an early age. She translated an article on an invention by Charles Babbage, and added her own comments. Because she introduced many computer concepts, Lovelace is considered the first computer programmer.
Who improved search functions in databases?
Marsha Rhea Williams: In 1982, Dr. Marsha Rhea Williams became the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in Computer Science. A successful educator and researcher in academia, Williams has also held positions in private industry and the public sector. Her scholarship examines a variety of topics, ranging from the improvement of search functions in computer databases to the existence of information technology resources in developing countries. She has devoted significant energy and expertise to the issue of expanding access to the fields of science, engineering, and technology for underrepresented communities.
Which US Navy Admiral thought (and acted) like a hacker?
And no, it wasn't Bill Halsey. Rear Admiral Grace Hopper: Grace Hopper joined the U.S. Navy during World War II and was assigned to program the Mark I computer. She continued to work in computing after the war, leading the team that created the first computer language compiler, which led to the popular COBOL language. She resumed active naval service at the age of 60, becoming a rear admiral before retiring in 1986. My CyberWire colleague, Rick Howard, wrote a piece on Grace Hopper a few years back: "In her personal and professional life, she exemplified the hacker ethic. She flew a Jolly Roger flag in her office and smoked like a chimney. She believed that asking permission was harder than asking forgiveness. She believed that software should be free of charge and that the most dangerous phrase in any organization is, “We have always done it that way.”
Who pioneered intrusion detection systems?
Dorothy Denning: A US-American information security researcher known for lattice-based access control (LBAC), intrusion detection systems (IDS), and other cyber security innovations. She was inducted as a member of the inaugural class into the National Cyber Security Hall of Fame in 2012. She is now Emeritus Distinguished Professor of Defense Analysis, Naval Postgraduate School.
Who helped build the venture ecosystem for security startups?
Rebecca "Becky" Bace: A pioneer in cybersecurity research and an early information security program manager, directing research in information security for the U.S. Department of Defense in the 1980s and 1990s. She was a venture consultant for Trident Capital and a long-time chief strategist of the Center for Forensics, Information Technology and Security at the University of South Alabama (USA) – an organization designed to promote the advancement of knowledge related to the study and application of digital forensics and information technology security and assurance. Not only considered an industry pioneer, she was also a mentor who valued her role in advising young people and young companies and thus, garnered nicknames like "Mamabear" and "Den Mother of Computer Security."
Thanks for exploring these amazing women with me. I hope it encourages you to start your own investigations into those who helped shape our cybersecurity world of today. Enjoy your explorations!
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