N2K logoNov 9, 2019

Rosa Smothers, Senior Vice President of Cyber Operations for Hosting Sponsor KnowBe4

Rosa Smothers, Senior Vice President of Cyber Operations for Hosting Sponsor KnowBe4 sharing her perspective at the CyberWire's 6th Annual Women in Cyber Security Reception, Thursday, October 24, 2019, at the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC.


Dave Bittner: [00:00:12;00] Please join me in Welcoming, Rosa Smothers!

Rosa Smothers: [00:00:16;22] Long story short, I just recently came out of doing cyber operations at the CIA, so I took a really interesting tour through the spy museum today. Some of it was a little closer than I was expecting.

Rosa Smothers: [00:00:42;21] So, there's a great display downstairs on a gentleman named Morten Storm who was an asset that helped us get to Anwar Al-Awlaki. Who was a very dangerous guy, he inspired a lot of lone wolf terrorists that killed a lot of people. He was an eccentric individual and you will see that by the inclusion of his awesome Metallica t-shirt when you go downstairs and you watch this video.

Rosa Smothers: [00:01:13;28] I've had a lot of great experiences serving our country in terms of cyber security and cyber operations. I learned how to fire a Glock and an M4, although as a daughter of a redneck that came fairly natural to me.

Rosa Smothers: [00:01:31;25] I learned how to crash cars, literally had to aim not drive, that was the philosophy. And for the first time after 20 years in the industry I had female mentors. I never had that before. And if I'm, oh, I'm going to get emotional. If I'm grateful for anything it's for the mentorship that the amazing friends and women who are still in so I can't name them, what they gave to me.

Rosa Smothers: [00:02:09;26] Sometimes it's really hard to ask for help. You don't even know you should ask for help. But sometimes your human pride says, don't ask for help. Don't wait for that mentor to reach out for you. Know that it's okay to say, I don't know everything. I don't know the organizational structure. I spoke to a young woman earlier who's fairly new on a job, don't feel self-conscious about reaching out to people whom with you feel like you have a good rapport and ask those questions. Be bold. It's difficult, it's not easy. But, every women in this room is standing on the shoulders of giants. Let's face it.

Rosa Smothers: [00:02:58;20] I mean let's think about the spies, the women spies that have done so much for our country and I want to start with Harriet Tubman.

Rosa Smothers: [00:03:13;28] This was a woman risking her life for her country before there was such a thing as a spy service. She was the pioneer when it comes to women doing espionage and we gotta remember that. There was a woman named Virginia Hall. This woman literally, like a pirate had a peg leg. Like a wooden leg. She was helping POWs get out of dangerous situations during World War II. If they told her she couldn't do it clearly she was not comprehending that. You know, she grew up in a sort of Tom Sawyer environment, no one told her she couldn't, so she just did it.

Rosa Smothers: [00:03:56;09] Elizabeth McIntosh, she went by Betty. She wrote a great book and I would recommend all of you read this. It's Sisterhood of Spies: The Women of the OSS. Available on Amazon. She and Julia Child were doing clandestine operations. Well Julie and Julia that movie, Meryl Streep played Julia Child doing this stuff. She was the pioneer of clandestine operations in the OSS. And at a time when the director of the OSS said, "Well you know..." Wild Bill, as we called him, "... you know, they're the apron strings of the organization." And I've watched interviews with Betty that she said, "You know what? They reduced us to being secretaries, we were linguists, we were analysts, we were subject area experts." I see women in uniform here tonight... that are subject matter experts in whatever field you're serving, thank you.

Rosa Smothers: [00:05:16;04] But the fact of the matter is, those women in the OSS did not hear no and if they heard the apron strings remark, which I'm sure they did, they kept moving forward. They didn't take no for an answer. They weren't going to allow themselves to be put in a box. And I would love to tell you, it's 2019, it's a different world, but it's not always a different world. Look, I've got a Masters degree in computer network security, I have been part of amazing hacking teams that have done extraordinary things, none of which I can tell you about. That is frustrating. And in 2019 I still have those moments where I still have that, and pardon me for the amazing gentlemen in the room, but I'm going to say those mansplaining cyber moments.

Rosa Smothers: [00:06:19;23] At this point I'm not sure it's conscious, but the important thing is to put your hand up, call a moment and diplomatically womansplain, and I'm saying diplomatically, you don't have to do this in the room full of everybody, it's not a punitive judgment. This is a teaching moment, think of it as a teaching moment because when this has happened to me in the business, this was by good guys and I'm not saying agency guys, I'm saying private sector, wherever. These are good guys. They often don't realize they're saying what they're saying, how they're coming off. It's important that we, as a community, support each other by working towards making this stop. We need for people to embrace the fact that irrespective of our gender or our color, because I also recognize I'm blond haired and blue eyed, so my life's a little easier than some folks, right?

Rosa Smothers: [00:07:29;12] So, there are people in this room that have more to combat daily than I do. And it gets exhausting and I've had a lot of conversations with very dear friends of mine, still in the agency and some out, about the realities of women in the work force. And what I'm saying to you is, like Virginia Hall, like Betty McIntosh, even when they tell you, "No," do not fit in their box. Keep working towards your education, keep working towards your certifications. Keep asking people, "How do I grow and progress? How do I get smarter?" Because it's not going to be handed to you.

Rosa Smothers: [00:08:10;14] And the beautiful thing about our industry, you'll never know everything. I love the fact that we work in a business where everything is constantly evolving. You'll never be bored. You will always have a learning opportunity. Pursue them. Ask to go to the conferences that are out of town. It's okay if it costs for your plane and travel. It's okay. You know. Do it. So, I hadn't intended to do a women's empowerment, but I'm doing a women's empowerment.

Rosa Smothers: [00:08:55;20] So, I would recommend, learn to listen, rather than wait to talk. Active listening is very important, whether you're a spy looking to collect intelligence to feed an adversary network or whether you're trying to just learn about an organization and be smarter and grow in what you're doing. Because at the end of the day, you are your own best advocate. Know how to think on your feet because we're all going to get those curve balls and sometimes that comes with just time, experience and maturity. And be ready to be quick with the response. And if you think something's going to happen, some sort of event in the work place or outside of the work place, game it out. Think about what you're going to say, how you're going to conduct yourself because you'll do it more calmly, more securely and with more force representing yourself and the power that you are as women.

Rosa Smothers: [00:10:02;29] Education and training, I mentioned that. I think at the end of the day resilience and determination, those are the two best things I could possibly leave you with. When it comes to resilience, I've spent many years overseas, but I spent almost two years in Iraq. After my first year, I think it was eight or nine days after returning, I was in a car accident, broke both of my legs, had to relearn how to walk. So, when I say resilience, be ready to be hit by the most unexpected thing that could happen to you and have to recover from it and just put one foot in front of the other. And your loved ones, your family, your community, they will support you. And it's hard and it's difficult. And then you jump back into the game. But life's going to throw you those curve balls and you will over come them because you're awesome women in cyber security and I'm proud to be a part of this effort. So thank you.