September 1 is International Women in Cyberspace Day – a global movement dedicated to the advancement and retention of women in the cybersecurity industry. To mark the occasion this year, the BlackBerry Blog caught up with two accomplished professionals from our Research and Threat Intelligence team: Lysa Myers, Senior Threat Researcher, and Natasha Rohner, Senior Threat Research Editor. Read on to learn more about their cyber journey and the insights they gained along the way.
Q: What can you tell us about your background in cybersecurity?
Lysa Myers: My journey into security was not exactly conventional. I had always pictured myself with plant-focused work – one particular taxonomy class was an “Aha!” moment for me, understanding family relationships between individual plant species. One summer I took a job as an office assistant at a security company, which had unexpected downtime, so I volunteered in the virus research group.
Having a lot of customer service experience in my previous career as a florist, I was well suited to help triage incoming malware samples. As I learned more about malware research, this taxonomy experience proved useful – being able to spot important similarities and differences between individual variants helped me add the detection of malware families.
Natasha Rohner: I also had what you might call a non-traditional journey into cybersecurity. After graduating from film school, my first job was as a writer-for-hire for gaming giant Games Workshop, which had just launched a film-based fiction publishing arm. They had acquired the rights to film franchises such as Blade, Final Destination and the Freddie Krueger movies, which they paid me (much to my delight, as a huge sci-fi fan) to turn into novels. .
I’ve always been very interested in technology, so after that contract ended, I decided to get a “real” job and applied for a position at Cylance, a California-based cybersecurity startup. I was lucky because the person who hired me was a big movie buff. He gave me the chance to prove that my fiction writing skills could be useful to the company and hired me as the editor of the company blog.
Q: What does International Women in Cyberspace Day mean to you? Why is this day important?
Lysa Myers: To be honest, I didn’t know about this party until recently! Sometimes I forget that the security industry is so much bigger than when I started almost 25 years ago – when you could comfortably accommodate all the women in the industry in one boardroom. Now, we number in the thousands (or tens or hundreds of thousands? Honestly, I don’t know!). The industry has really exploded, and women are a big part of how career paths have become far more diverse than just the stereotypical hacker in a hoodie.
Natasha Rohner: It goes without saying that we need more women in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) – men are currently three times more numerous than women in cyber, according to a recent study by (ISC) ² – but I would say that First, we need more (and better) media portrayals of successful women in STEM professions.
Wherever you look in the world, the foundation of our culture is based on stories – from the first stories told around campfires about “that crazy guy who survived the woolly mammoth attack”, to the madness Million dollar Marvel Multiverse you’ll see on the big screen. For example, I’m a big fan of Big Bang Theory because the show portrays women who are as successful (if not more!) than men working in science and technology. I am fully convinced that women will eventually catch up with men, both in the way we are portrayed on television and in society – even if men will continue to criticize the way we drive the Mars Rover.
Q: Do you have any “Aha!” moments of work in the cyber?
Lysa Myers: One of the biggest “Aha!” moments in my career was when I started giving presentations at conferences. At first I thought I had very little interest in telling the wider community because there were already so many researchers who seemed to know absolutely everything.
But it turns out having such a strange background gave me a unique voice that helped me reach a different audience than researchers typically reach. One of the dumbest and most rewarding moments of my career was being asked to speak at a conference on data privacy for lawyers, to talk about how securing data compares with what I learned about effective farm animal fencing. (Who doesn’t like looking at pictures of cute animals while learning useful information!)
Natasha Rohner: I read somewhere that to master any skill – from fiddling to learning to code like Bill Gates – you first have to train for 10,000 hours. This became very clear to me during my first week at Cylance, when I had to look up virtually every other word in the research papers I had been hired to edit. After a year, I was looking for maybe one word per article, and after seven years in the business, I found myself screaming at TV when a character in leather gloves produces a laptop, presses three buttons and “Instantly hacks the mainframe” (What?!).
Q: Can you give any advice to women who want to break into the cyber industry?
Lysa Myers: My biggest advice for women looking to get into security is to look beyond technical skills. While these hard skills are certainly important, they can be used in different ways, in different career paths. Sometimes having a diverse background can be what really sets you apart. For example, if you have a legal background, this could be very helpful in helping people understand new security and privacy legislation. If you have a background in writing or art, this can be very helpful in communicating difficult concepts to financial stakeholders or customers.
Natasha Rohner: Don’t give up on a career in cybersecurity just because you may not have the qualifications listed in the job posting. Apply anyway – you never know where your particular skills and abilities might fit
Q: Tell us a fun fact about yourself.
Lysa Myers: As you might have guessed, I didn’t give up my biology-nerdery when I joined the security industry. My wife and I operate a small hobby farm with a few sheep, goats and chickens, as well as two turtles, an iguana and three cats. My husband ran a mobile zoo with the reptiles, which is why they are in our menagerie (now enjoying a peaceful retirement). We use wool from sheep and eggs from chickens around the house. Which leaves the goats – they work with the sheep on brush control in our yard, but they are also part of a mini petting zoo on demand. They have been included in so many local and international news articles that they are sometimes recognized as celebrities!
Lysa Myers with her goat Nibbles as a baby.
(Editor: We heard you’re a published author and Comic-Con presenter?)
Natasha Rohner: I don’t tell anyone that I’m an author, or people make me read their unpublished scripts. I’ve always been a prolific writer, and in my six years working for Games Workshop I’ve published eight full-length novels internationally: five movie-related books for partner media companies such as New Line Cinema and Rebellion Publishing, an original trilogy of novels set in an alternate Los Angeles overrun by werewolves called Dante’s Girl, plus some short horror stories.
I was also once on a panel at Comic-Con with Max Brooks, who wrote the New York Times #1 bestseller, The Zombie Survival Guide (and son of Mel Brooks and the late Anne Bancroft). I’m pretty sure they booked me in by mistake, but we had fun changing our business cards in the signature line to see if anyone noticed. And guess what? Nobody did. That’s why this world needs more proofreaders.
Natasha Rohner, Max Brooks
Statistics on women in cybersecurity
In today’s environment, cyberattacks against governments, organizations and individuals are growing in scope and sophistication at lightning speed. Even though the cybersecurity industry is considered one of the fastest growing in the world, the ability of organizations to attract and retain top cybersecurity talent has never been more challenging. The Great Resignation and related economic trends from the start of 2021 have seen many cybersecurity employees voluntarily leave their jobs, and it continues to plague businesses with many positions remaining vacant.
According to a June 2022 analysis, women make up approximately 24% of the cybersecurity workforce. Men still outnumber women and wage disparities persist. However, progress continues to be made. Women in industry benefit from higher levels of education and are increasingly gaining access to positions of responsibility. An ISC ² Cybersecurity Workforce Study finds higher percentages of female cybersecurity professionals compared to males in positions such as chief technology officer (7% female vs. 2% male), vice president of IT (9% vs. 5%), CIO (18% vs. 14%) and C-level/executive (28% vs. 19%).
There is still work to be done, but the results indicate that women are forging successful paths to management and better positions in the cybersecurity industry.
And to echo the supportive words of our threat research and intelligence professionals, it’s wise to avoid limiting beliefs because the unique skills one brings to the table are valuable. Keep up the good work!