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Code Girls To Cybersecurity Leaders: Women Who Inspire

This tribute not only honors their legacy but also bridges the past with the present, showcasing the continuum of women's contributions to cybersecurity.

by Augustin Kurian March 8, 2024 in Features, Firewall Daily Reading Time: 5 mins read 0

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In a recent homage to Women's History Month, the US Cyber Command cast a spotlight on and the unsung heroines of World War II, known as the “.” Their story, deeply interwoven with the theme of International Women's Day 2024, #InspireInclusion, serves as a reminder of the pivotal role women have historically played in keeping the world safer.

This tribute not only honors their legacy but also bridges the past with the present, showcasing the continuum of women's contributions to cybersecurity.

During the throes of World War II, a group of remarkable women, including Judy Parsons, were instrumental in the Allied forces' intelligence efforts, breaking ciphers and providing crucial information that led to the sinking of 95 German U-boats.

These women, meticulously selected from the for their exceptional skills in mathematics, languages, and sciences, were America's original . Yet, for decades, their contributions remained veiled in secrecy, their stories untold, and their achievements unrecognized.

The Code Girls: A Closer Look

The story of the Code Girls begins in 1941, when mysterious letters arrived in the mailboxes of select students at the Seven Sister colleges. These letters, which would change the course of their lives, invited them to meetings where they were asked if they enjoyed crossword puzzles or had wedding plans.

Unbeknownst to these women, they were being recruited for a top-secret mission that would leverage their unmatched skills in a bid to serve their country in an unprecedented way.

These women were about to become part of a covert operation, breaking the codes and ciphers of the Axis powers. Working in secrecy, they embarked on a challenge that was as intellectually demanding as it was crucial to the Allied war effort. Their achievements, including the breaking of codes that led to significant naval victories, were monumental. Yet, the recognition of their contributions was delayed for decades, their stories untold, and their achievements unrecognized until recent years.

The comparison of the Code Girls to their counterparts at , including , and the acknowledgment of their similar achievements in breaking complex codes, serves to elevate their status in the annals of history. Despite facing bureaucratic rivalries and administrative sexism, these women persevered, showcasing their prodigious intellect and dedication to their work.

's book, “Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II,” provides a detailed account of their efforts and the challenges they faced. The book's revelations about the volume of intercepted and decoded messages, and the strategic impact of their work, offer a glimpse into the critical role these women played in the war effort.

The notion of the Code Girls as America's first ethical hackers and the modern-day equivalents of the intellectual women of the 18th century, the bluestockings, is a compelling comparison. It highlights the continuity of women's contributions to intellectual and security fields, despite societal expectations that often sought to limit their roles.

The reflections of on the nature of the work and the fulfillment it brought underscore the personal impact of this service on the women involved. Their transition back to civilian life, with many unable to continue in high-level positions, points to the broader societal challenges faced by women at the time.

Bridging the Past and Present

The narrative of the Code Girls is not merely a historical recount but a testament to the intellectual and innovative prowess of women in the realm of cybersecurity. Despite facing bureaucratic hurdles and administrative sexism, these women persevered, deciphering complex codes and creating deceptive intel to mislead enemy forces.

Their work laid the foundational stones for modern and underscored the indispensable role of women in the field.

Fast forward to today, the landscape of cybersecurity continues to evolve, with women like Tayse Orlovas, Director of Security & Resilience at Kyndryl, and Anna Collard, SVP of Content Strategy and Evangelist at KnowBe4 Africa, at the forefront. Their journeys, akin to those of the Code Girls, are marked by innovation, resilience, and a profound passion for cybersecurity.

Tayse Orlovas, with three decades of experience in Information Technology, offers a unique perspective on the role of women in cybersecurity.

“As a woman in STEM, my journey has been about overcoming doubts and leveraging my strengths to make a meaningful impact in the field of Information/Cyber Security,” Orlovas shares. Her insights into the qualities that women bring to cybersecurity—passion, optimism, organization, empathy, and collaboration—echo the theme of #InspireInclusion. Orlovas emphasizes that these traits are not just beneficial but essential for success in cybersecurity, a field that thrives on diverse perspectives and innovative problem-solving.

Anna Collard's journey from doodling cartoons to becoming a cybersecurity leader is equally inspiring. Collard's transition into the tech world was marked by a blend of creativity and determination.

“I was driven by imposter syndrome to work as hard as I could and keep on studying in order to keep up with my mostly male engineering colleagues,” Collard recalls in one of her columns in The Cyber Express. Her innovative approach to cybersecurity education, combining her love for cartoons with her expertise in the field, highlights the diverse pathways into cybersecurity and the importance of creative thinking in developing effective security solutions.

Both Orlovas and Collard emphasize the importance of inclusion and diversity in driving innovation and effectiveness in cybersecurity. Their stories, along with those of the Code Girls, serve as a powerful reminder of the contributions women have made—and continue to make—in the field. As we celebrate International Women's Day 2024 under the theme #InspireInclusion, it's crucial to recognize and honor the achievements of women in cybersecurity, from the pioneers of the past to the leaders of today.

The legacy of the Code Girls, coupled with the contributions of women like Tayse Orlovas and Anna Collard, illustrates the transformative power of inclusion in cybersecurity. Their stories not only celebrate the past achievements of women in the field but also highlight the ongoing need for diversity and inclusion in shaping the future of cybersecurity.

As the cybersecurity landscape continues to evolve, the stories of these remarkable women serve as a beacon, inspiring future generations to pursue careers in tech and cybersecurity.

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