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Picture a “cybersecurity expert” in your mind, and then catch yourself if you imagine a stereotype. Not every cybersecurity expert is a white male—as proven by the influence and impact of Rebecca “Becky” Bace, an intrusion detection pioneer who passed away in March 2017.

It’s quite appropriate to remember Bace during National Cybersecurity Awareness Month. Named one of the five most influential women in cybersecurity, she was born in Alabama to a World War II veteran and a Japanese war bride. She suffered from a neurological condition that caused seizures, and a neurologist told her mother that Bace should expect to be on disability for the rest of her life and wouldn’t be able to pursue her dream career as a physician.

Bace was undeterred

A math whiz, Bace enrolled at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, and found her way to the engineering program. Before graduating, she took a job at Xerox, where she met her husband, and moved to Maryland, finishing her studies at Regents College.

In 1983, she noticed a low-key ad in Byte magazine calling for technology professionals. Bace sent in her resume and her husband’s—and they both found themselves working at the National Security Agency. There, she created the Computer Misuse and Anomaly Detection (CMAD) program, researching the threat of intrusion detection to U.S. government computers. (Her work contributed to the apprehension of hacker Kevin Mitnick.)

Her career later took her to Los Alamos National Laboratory as well as the private sector. The author of several influential textbooks, she founded Infidel Inc. and returned to her home state to serve as chief strategist for the Center for Forensics, Information Technology and Security at the University of South Alabama.

Her passing in 2017 shocked the cybersecurity community, who remembered the “mama bear” and “den mother” of cybersecurity in several heartfelt blog posts. Her email address “infomom at” reflecting her nurturing side and her desire to mentor and to bring the cybersecurity community together. In 2019, Bace was inducted into the Cyber Security Hall of Fame.

Photo: sdecoret / Shutterstock

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Kate Johanns

Posted by Kate Johanns

Kate Johanns is a communications professional and freelance writer with more than 13 years of experience in publishing and marketing.

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