Demystifying Cybersecurity: Women and Marginalized Groups Must Be at the Forefront of the Digital Revolution

It will take a paradigm shift to defend our national security moving forward. Women and people of color should be at the forefront of this effort. 

“I love this work because I get to look across all of our products to make sure we are doing everything we can to keep users safe,” said Camille Stewart, who co-founded #ShareTheMicInCyber—an online movement and social media campaign highlighting the experiences of Black practitioners in the cybersecurity field—with Lauren Zabierek. (Courtesy of Camille Stewart)

If you use the internet, you or someone you know has received a suspicious email, had an account hacked or card stolen, or even had your identity stolen. These activities are more than just everyday nuisances—they threaten our well-being and our overall security, with no end in sight. In a world where digital threats can quickly transition to physical threats, women are too often most impacted at the intersection of physical and digital threats. 

From disinformation to cybersecurity and privacy harms, the digital threats we face every day can no longer be ignored.

  • Ransomware continues to rage, putting our essential services, such as energy and water, at risk every day.
  • This year, the Colonial Pipeline was shut down for days after a ransomware attack, disrupting travel and causing gas shortages for millions.
  • In 2019, a baby tragically died as a result of a cyberattack on an Alabama hospital. 
  • Emboldened by Russia’s influence operations, disinformation campaigns by nations and non-state actors alike continue unabated. 
  • China seeks access to data and technology in its quest for technological dominance. 

And while these threats continue to mount, there just aren’t enough people equipped to address them. There are currently almost 600,000 open cybersecurity jobs in the U.S. and 2.7 million globally—and that number is growing. People often do not realize just how important their individual actions are to protecting their families and the services we rely on. We want to expand our reach to the general public, to inform and empower people to protect themselves and our collective well-being. And we know women and people of color should be at the forefront of this effort. 

So how do we protect ourselves online? And who is responsible for protecting us? Whether protecting social media accounts, locking down email, or understanding ransomware attacks and other cybersecurity news of the day, there is a need for everyone to be more aware online—and that means women and historically marginalized minorities need to be at the forefront of the digital revolution. Our views on and use of technology must inform its evolution and how we think about protecting ourselves. 

Diversity is essential to this work. This is not a threat environment in which one particular educational background or demographic will succeed: It will take a paradigm shift to defend our national security moving forward. Often digital security seems complex, and we don’t often see ourselves in the people talking about it.  But women are experts in this field, working on issues ranging from the very technical to national level tech and security policy.  

That’s why we started #ShareTheMicInCyber—an online movement and social media campaign highlighting the experiences of Black practitioners in this field, driving a critical conversation on race in the industry, and shining a light on Black practitioners’ accomplishments to showcase them as experts in their fields all while creating professional opportunities and bringing the cyber community together. Since its inception, the campaigns have reached over 100 million followers on Twitter, have included congressional and executive participation, and led to further efforts like a scholarship fund, diversity pledges, and source list for Black professionals. This work is opening up the industry for everyone!

We’re excited to introduce the readers of Ms. magazine to women in #ShareTheMicInCyber, in order to:

  • explain complex security topics, like why are we so vulnerable in cyberspace and who or what is most at risk;
  • break down the latest news, like what’s going on with Russia and Ukraine and what that means for our cybersecurity;
  • provide solutions—what works and what doesn’t for the average person; and
  • inspire others to enter the field, like women of all ages, ethnicities, backgrounds, races, and educational status).
Lauren Zabierek, co-founder of #ShareTheMicInCyber. (Volker Lannert)

As we all figure out how to protect ourselves and our loved ones in an increasingly digital and connected world, our mission is to change the face of cybersecurity and privacy.

Below is an excerpt from a conversation between us about our backgrounds to help us kick off Demystifying Cybersecurity—a #ShareTheMicInCyber and Ms. magazine series. In the months ahead, we’ll be interviewing women from the #ShareTheMicInCyber movement and sharing those conversations with you—so watch this space!

Lauren Zabierek: Camille, why don’t we kick off this series with you. What do you do? What does a normal day look like for you?

Camille Stewart: I lead cybersecurity strategy for Google. My team advises the security teams within products, like YouTube and Android, on how to reduce security and privacy risk for their business. I also make sure the Google central security teams know how to help those teams reduce their security risk.

Zabierek: That’s cool! Sounds like a big job—really taking all this experience and knowledge you built through previous federal service, the tech startup world, and in your law degree and using it to make decisions that impact the security of Google users, right? That’s a lot of people!

How does your work keep people safe?

Stewart: Well, Google works to make sure its products are secure-by-default. That work requires not only creating security-centric products but also by making sure our internal security is resilient.

I love this work because I get to look across all of our products to make sure we are doing everything we can to keep users safe. That is extremely important to me because our users span individuals, small business, larger enterprises, and more. This work touches a large part of the ecosystem across the world.  

Cybersecurity is a multidisciplinary industry that requires practitioners with a variety of skill sets. I want everyone to feel like they can transition into cybersecurity.

Camille Stewart

Zabierek: That is real, daily impact! It may sound like a big job and tough for someone to get into.

What do you wish people knew about working in cybersecurity?  Do people need to know how to code?  Because I do not!

Stewart: Cybersecurity is a multidisciplinary industry that requires practitioners with a variety of skill sets. We need lawyers, communicators, technologists, policy professionals, program managers and so much more. I want everyone to feel like they can transition into cybersecurity or build a career whether or not they are traditionally technical—like an engineer or computer scientist.

Lauren, Can you please share how you got into cybersecurity? Your story is such an important illustration of the ability to transition into cyber with a seemingly non traditional background. 

Zabierek:  I often say that I fell into it, but in reality, my entire career has been in national security—so it was more of a pivot in that realm.

I had to leave government, where I was a counterterrorism analyst—and while it’s definitely not the same thing, there are some parallels, such as finding malicious activity within a broader population using various clues among data, and using technology to make sense of that data. I moved to Boston to join my husband. In doing so, I was lucky enough that the cybersecurity startup that I joined was looking for people with security or intelligence backgrounds, knowing that with the right core traits, that I could learn the specifics as I went along. So even though I was doing something different and new, it really gave me the understanding of this new world, and drove me to want to improve it (because I saw how much our country and our businesses were dealing with these big threats).

That led me to my current role as the executive director of the Cyber Project at the Harvard Kennedy School where we conduct policy-relevant research on these big, strategic cyber problems.

Camille, Another piece of this work is making sure that everyone understands how to protect themselves. Can you please share a cybersecurity or privacy tip?

Stewart: It is so important for everyone to make intentional choices about their digital security and privacy. As social media, technology and the internet continue underpin modern day society, we all need to be aware of how it is impacting us. My tip is to use two-factor authentication (2FA) EVERYWHERE. Most of your favorite apps and service providers offer it and even if they don’t, you can still use it. 

2FA is an extra layer of security used to make sure that people trying to gain access to an online account are who they say they are. First, a user will enter their username and a password. Then, instead of immediately gaining access, they will be required to provide another piece of information. The few extra minutes this will take will provide you so much protection from identity theft, people hijacking your accounts, and other security issues. 

Zabierek: Great tip! I think knowing what simple things we can do to protect ourselves is so vital—if it’s not easy, people won’t do it. At the same time, empowering women to protect themselves online—from fraud, stalking, disinformation, identity theft, and asset loss—will go a long way to build collective security and resilience at a personal and a societal level.  And if we can work together to help each other out, all the better.  

Speaking of which, that’s part of the spirit behind #ShareTheMicInCyber: working together to lift up traditionally-marginalized people in cyber, tech and privacy, and working to dismantle systemic racism in the industry, which is crucial if we want to get more people in cyber.

Camille, can you tell the readers about the impact this movement has had on the industry?

Stewart: I am floored by just how much change this movement has sparked. We’ve watched participants get the scholarship money to make strides in their career, we’ve seen new connections yield board seats, new jobs, and new organizational partnerships. This movement has sparked policy change at organizational and national levels and it is opening up a much needed dialogue on how systemic racism impacts cybersecurity. This work is starting to translate into a more open and diverse field for the benefit of us all! 

Zabierek: I know there is still much work to be done, but I am so proud of us, and so grateful to call you my friend and partner in this endeavor. Well Camille, I am so excited about this series and to highlight other amazing women in #ShareTheMicInCyber. I think the readers of Ms. will learn a lot and be inspired!   

New installments of the Demystifying Cybersecurity series drop on the third Wednesday of each month for the rest of the year.

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About and

Camille Stewart is an attorney and executive whose crosscutting perspective on complex technology, cyber and national security, and foreign policy issues has landed her in significant roles at leading government and private sector companies like the Department of Homeland Security, Deloitte and Google. Camille builds global cybersecurity, privacy and election security/integrity programs in complex environments for large companies and government agencies.
Lauren Zabierek is the executive director of the Cyber Project at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center.