by Rachel Stengel '14, '20
Dr. Elizabeth Hawthorne is in the 25% — the percentage who are women working in the cybersecurity field. Hawthorne is proud to have seen that number grow in the past few years, especially as a founding advisory board member of the organization Women in Cybersecurity (WiCyS).
“I’ve been to all of the WiCyS conferences and have all the T-shirts,” she says. “When WiCyS started eight years ago, women were only 11% of the cybersecurity workforce. The national WiCyS initiative has really moved the needle for women in cybersecurity.”
Hawthorne is dedicated to educating the next generation of “cyber warriors,” as she calls her students. As a cyber forensic expert, she teaches her warriors to investigate and solve cybercrimes.
The need for cybersecurity professionals is crucial, Hawthorne says, with a projected shortage of 3.5 million workers.
“Our country is not producing enough cybersecurity professionals,” she says. “Because we’re so connected through technology, it provides an opportunity for those who want to do harm. This is the new era of crime.”
I teach because I enjoy inspiring others to stay curious
What are some underlying challenges for women working in cybersecurity?
Definitely overcoming the imposter syndrome, which essentially states that women lack the confidence despite having the credentials and experience. Research indicates a woman will look at a job description and think, “I only have 60% of the requirements. I better not apply.” While a man will see the same job requirements and say, “Oh, I’ve got 50-60%. I’ll apply.” We need to coach young women interested in cyber to think, “Go for it! Don’t tell yourself no. Don’t let anybody else tell you no.”
What are some of the biggest cyber threats?
The most serious cyber threat today is ransomware. Cybercriminals lock up your system using encryption and demand a ransom before handing over the decryption key. An effective countermeasure to ransomware is a daily backup. If you backed up your information and the criminals hold your computing system hostage, you can restore your applications and data onto a new system, which is cheaper than paying the ransom.
How are most people vulnerable to cybercrime?
Cybercriminals use bots to automatically crawl through the internet, looking for virtual computer ports unwittingly left open to exploit with malware. There are about 65,000 virtual ports per internet connection. When you connect your computer to the internet, most ports are open by default. You may use about seven of them while surfing the internet and sending email. By not closing the unused ports, it’s like leaving your home windows and doors wide open for criminals to help themselves.