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Women Behind the Screen: An Interview with BlackBerry Threat Research & Intelligence Pros

CYBERSECURITY / 09.01.22 / Peggy Kelly
September 1st is International Women in Cyber Day – a global movement dedicated to advancing and retaining women in the cybersecurity industry. To mark the occasion this year, the BlackBerry Blog caught up with two accomplished professionals on our Threat Research and Intelligence Team: Principal Threat Researcher Lysa Myers and Principal Threat Research Publisher Natasha Rohner. Read on to learn about their journey into cyber and insights they’ve gained along the way.

Q: What can you tell us about your journey into cybersecurity?

Lysa Myers: My journey into security wasn’t exactly conventional. I had always pictured myself with a job focusing on plants – one particular taxonomy class was an “Aha!” moment for me, understanding the family relationships between individual plant species. One summer, I took a job as an office assistant at a security company, which had some unexpected downtime, so I volunteered in the virus research group.
Lysa Myers
Having a lot of customer service experience in my previous career as a florist, I was a natural fit to help with triage for incoming malware samples. As I learned more about malware research, that taxonomy experience came in handy – being able to spot important similarities and differences between individual variants helped me to add detection for 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 work-for-hire writer for gaming giant Games Workshop, which had just launched a movie-based, fiction publishing wing. They’d acquired the rights to film franchises such as Blade, Final Destination, and the Freddie Krueger movies, which (to my delight, as a huge science-fiction fan) they hired me to turn into novels.
Natasha Rohner
I’ve always been very interested in technology, so after that contract ended, I decided to get a “real” job, and applied for a role at Cylance, a cybersecurity startup based in California. I was lucky in that the person who hired me was a huge movie buff – he gave me a chance to prove that my fiction-writing skill set could be useful to the company, and hired me as managing editor of the company blog.

Q: What does International Women in Cyber Day mean to you? Why is this day important?

Lysa Myers: To be frank, I wasn’t aware of this holiday 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 fit all the women in the industry into a single conference room. Now we number in the thousands (or tens or hundreds of thousands? I don’t honestly know!). The industry has really exploded, and women are a huge part of how career paths have gotten a lot more diverse than just including the stereotypical hacker in a hoodie.

Natasha Rohner: It goes without saying that we need more women in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math) – men currently outnumber women three to one in cyber, according to recent research by (ISC)² – but I’d argue that first, we need more (and better) media portrayals of successful women working in the STEM professions. 

Wherever you look in the world, the bedrock of our culture is based on stories – from the first tales told around campfires about “that crazy guy who survived the wooly mammoth attack,” to the million-dollar Marvel multiverse madness you’ll see on the big screen. For instance, I’m a huge Big Bang Theory fan because the show depicts women being just as successful (if not more so!) as men working in science and technology. I’m fully confident that women will catch up with men in the end, both in the way we’re depicted on TV, and in society – even though men will still criticize the way we drive the Mars Rover.

Q: Do you have any “Aha!” moments from working in cyber?

Lysa Myers: One of the biggest “Aha!” moments in my career was when I first started presenting at conferences. I initially thought that I had very little of interest to say to the wider community because there were already so many researchers that seemed to know absolutely everything.

But as it turns out, having such a strange background gave me a unique voice that helped me reach a different kind of audience than those researchers typically reached. One of the silliest and most gratifying moments of my career was being invited to speak at a data privacy conference for lawyers, to talk about comparing securing data to what I’ve learned about effectively fencing farm animals. (Who doesn’t love looking at pictures of cute animals while being taught useful info!)

Natasha Rohner: I read somewhere that to achieve mastery of any skill — from playing the violin to learning to code like Bill Gates — you first have to practice for 10,000 hours. That became very clear to me during my first week at Cylance, when I had to look up practically every other word in the research-based articles I was hired to edit. After a year, I was looking up maybe one word per article, and after seven years with the company and nearly 4,000 articles published, I find myself shouting at the TV when some leather-gloved character produces a laptop, presses three buttons, and instantly “hacks into the mainframe” (what?!).

Q: Can you share some advice for women looking to break into the cyber industry?

Lysa Myers: My biggest advice for women who are looking to get into security is to look beyond just technical skills. While those technical skills are certainly important, they can be put to use in many different ways, in different career paths. Sometimes having diverse experience can be what makes you really stand out. For instance, if you have a legal background, that could be really useful in helping people understand new security and privacy legislation. If you have a background in writing or art, this can be put to excellent use 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 advert. Apply anyway – you never know where your particular skills and abilities might fit in

Q: Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

Lysa Myers: As you might have guessed, I did not leave my biology-nerdery behind when I joined the security industry. My spouse and I run a little hobby farm with a few sheep, goats, and chickens, plus a couple of tortoises, an iguana, and three cats. My husband used to run a mobile zoo with the reptiles, which is why they’re in our menagerie (now enjoying a peaceful retirement). We use the wool from the sheep and eggs from the chickens around the house. Which leaves the goats – they work with the sheep at brush control in our yard, but they’re also part of an on-demand mini petting zoo. They’ve been included in so many local and international news articles that they occasionally get recognized like celebrities!

Lysa Myers with her goat Nibbles as a baby.

(Editor: We heard you’re a published author and a Comic-Con presenter?)

Natasha Rohner: I am indeed an author, though shhh – I don’t tell anyone or people make me read their unpublished screenplays. I’ve always been a prolific writer, and in my six years working for Games Workshop I published eight full-length novels internationally: five movie tie-in books for partner media companies such as New Line Cinema and Rebellion Publishing, an original novel trilogy called Dante's Girl set in an alternative Los Angeles run by werewolves, plus a couple of short horror stories.

Most recently I was an editor for our Research & Intelligence Team's new book, "Finding Beacons in the Dark: A Guide to Cyber Threat Intelligence".   

I was also once put on a panel at Comic-Con along with Max Brooks, who wrote the #1 New York Times bestseller, The Zombie Survival Guide (and son of Mel Brooks and the late Anne Bancroft). I’m fairly sure they booked me by mistake, but we did have some fun switching our name-cards in the signing line to see if anyone noticed. And guess what? Nobody did. That’s why this world needs more proofreaders.

Natasha Rohner, Max Brooks
Peggy Kelly

About Peggy Kelly

Peggy Kelly is the Blog Editor at BlackBerry.