Gender equality in the Infosec world as a topic of discussion comes with a lot of heated arguments and differences in opinion.
So let me start with some disclaimers on the target audience for this post. If you are in the category who believes everything about gender is perfect in the infosec world, this post is not for you. If you are in the category who believes gender and bringing diversity is not your area of interest, then this post is not for you either. There are so many interesting problems that the world offers you. Climate change, poverty, diseases, unemployment, addiction, science problems and what not. Everybody has the freedom to choose their area of interest and contribute towards it. If you are in the category who thinks gender equality in infosec needs some attention and would like to explore more on the topic without prejudices, then this post may be interesting to you.
Four years back, Marion Marschalek started the Blackhoodie event as a tiny reverse engineering workshop with a bunch of interested women who wanted to get started with reversing. Over the last several years, there has been an exponential increase with almost double the number of women taking part each year. In 2018, upon increased requests, Blackhoodie started having spin off events. The first spin off was at TROOPERS Heidelberg, the second upcoming one in MountainView at Google, another one at Hack.lu in Luxemborg, and a main event that will happen in Berlin this November. It was mind blowing to see such an increase in the number of applications for the Berlin event this year! Clearly Blackhoodie is a success story when it comes to experimenting with tackling the diversity issue in the infosec world. There is no doubt that the participants enjoyed the workshops and even encouraged more women to take part in the trainings. Some of them even started giving trainings themselves.
I did some thinking on why I liked Blackhoodie so much and wish to contribute to this community in whatever ways possible. My initial motivation was Marion more than reverse engineering itself. Marion as a mentor/friend/woman is an inspiring person. Her sense of simplicity and humility makes everything easy. I feel she has been very successful in transmitting this sense of simplicity to the field of reverse engineering. When she told me about Blackhoodie, I could totally resonate with the motivation behind it and wanted to be a part of it. The workshop turned out to be much more interesting than what I expected. Everyone who came for the workshop got to play with some reversing tools, one or two malware samples and some techniques as take away. Reverse engineering as a field can get extremely complex based on how deep you want to get into it. But I believe this is true for any field. The main idea was to make the whole topic less intimidating. Irrespective of your experience level, Blackhoodie did have something new to offer for everyone who made it. Since last year, there is also side tracks with different topics where the previous attendees take sessions and share their learning.
The most amazing thing about Blackhoodie is that it is all done by women. This is the one time in my entire year that I get to work with a group full of women learning computer science. It brought me immense joy and hope just to see so many women discussing hard technical concepts. Last year, after the Blackhoodie event, while I was on my train back home, I realized that Blackhoodie indeed was such a comfortable space with so many people who think and feel like me. I believe it is certainly more inspiring and balanced to have more women in the infosec workspace. I always wonder why there aren’t so many women in this field. As a women in infosec, I don’t find a single reason that should keep women away from exploring this field. In fact, I found this area very well suited for women to put their heart and soul into.
Recently, I got to attend a Windows Kernel reversing workshop by Bruce Dang at Recon. He invited five Blackhoodie members for the training and I was lucky to be one among them. By the end of the workshop, I really found the topic extremely interesting. This is again more to do with Bruce, his deep knowledge, and the simplicity and passion that made the field look so exciting and welcoming. This is also true in my day to day work life. I am humbled every day by the bunch of creative minds whom I work, and their genuine passion and love towards computer security. The main point I am trying to make here is that the infosec world is such a creative space with some of the best minds in the world. For all the women who are reading this post, please be assured that you will eventually find exciting work once you spend some quality time exploring different areas.
For those who are already established in the field, it is your responsibility to create a space with diversity in mind. Lately, there are some new ventures that are spawning up emphasizing the need of diversity. One of the recent successful examples is the Women In Tech Fund that started with the aim to provide assistance for entry to tech conferences, encouraging more female participation. The diversity scholarship for Blackhoodie at Hacklu (where ERNW was also a part) this year is another example of encouraging more female participation and creating that space at hacker conferences. The success of all such efforts and the exponential increase in numbers in events like Blackhoodie, is a reassuring testament to the fact that once there is a welcoming space created, there will definitely be more participation from women who are enthusiastic and ready to dive deep into the security field. I am really optimistic about that future where both men and women have that equal space and participation in the infosec world and collectively work towards making the world a safer place!