Community can be an awesome thing. It can also lead to a mentality of privilege, lying, shaming, head turning, and alienation.
I feel one of the best things about being involved in information security is the open community. through the community I have learned, made friends, and gained self confidence. Yet there is an ugly side of the community that has been coming to light, and the reveal has been a long time coming. The treatment of women, and the subsequent use of our talents to berate them, and those that support them, into silence. I am not talking about general disagreements, but about sexual misconduct. Sexual misconduct includes, continuous unwanted advances, drugging of women to allow for sexual advances that would otherwise be rejected, and rape.
We are the nerds, the geeks, the originals before being a nerd was the cool thing to be, before there were sub-categories of nerds and geeks. We were the ones who looked at the jocks and wanted to be like them, who were picked on, beaten up, and otherwise treated like we were less than everyone else in school (especially high school). We didn’t get to go to the cool kids parties, were (and might still be) socially awkward, and of course, had trouble getting dates. We looked at those who treated women poorly as bad people, something we would never do. How the times have changed.
We have become those jocks, those frat boys, those that will do whatever we want, to whomever we want and feel we can get away with it. You can look at the recent headline about the Tor Projects Jacob Applebaum, and the allegations against him. You can look at the whole backlash about Defcon and people I know and trust that have had their drinks drugged. There is a sense of entitlement, and the second someone goes and puts the truth out there, they get slammed, shamed, and people go on a social engineering tirade against them and anyone who supports them. All this because they are the opposite sex and we still haven’t learned the best way to deal with them is as human beings? To talk to them, to get to know them, to respect them for who they are and what they know?
Yes, we (we includes myself) are all guilty of sexist remarks, sexist jokes, staring at the opposite sex. That will never completely go away, and there are women who don’t mind the passing joke among friends, who sometimes find it an ego boost that someone is checking them out. I know I’ve made women in and out of the infosec community uneasy at times, especially when they haven’t gotten to know me yet. I try not to, but I am socially awkward to a degree. I will not push anything sexually on anyone though. I hear someone say they were drugged or raped, and I will stand behind them unless proven to be a falsehood. The law of the land might say Innocent until Proven Guilty, but that is for breaking the law, not public opinion, and definitely not the way the human mind tends to work.
I really wonder how many great ideas, and leaps forward we have missed in IT overall and infosec specifically, because women are afraid of us? They hear, and now with social media, see the fallout if you make an allegation and do not want to deal with it. They are not made to feel welcome. All of this because a relatively small portion have done bad things, and the rest of us either turn a blind eye or shame and attack the victims and their supporters until they disappear.
We are security people. Let us start by making our community a secure place for everyone.