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10 pioneering women in information security

Dorothy Denning


In the 1950s, women were calculating U.S. space missions, and by the 1960s they were programming mainframe computers. So, it should come as no surprise that there are also many remarkable female pioneers in computer and information security.

In honor of Women’s History Month, here are some of these women and their key contributions to the field.

Codebreakers and signal hoppers

Let’s start with WWII female codebreakers, like former Navy lieutenant Judy Parsons, a graduate of Carnegie Institute of Technology who joined the US Navy’s WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service). She and her OP-20-G group of WAVES helped sink 95 German U-boats during WWII thanks to their codebreaking efforts.

Parsons was one of thousands of women working in different security capacities during the war from 1939-1945. They broke new ciphers used by German and Japanese forces and provided a funnel of intelligence that Allied Forces used to uncover enemy locations, sink ships, down planes, and ultimately win the war. Navy women built the computing machines needed to decrypt the Enigma cipher, after another female, Mavis Bately, deciphered a message and learned how the Nazi Abwehr Enigma machine worked.

During the same time period, another leading lady, Hedy Lamarr, in 1941 patented her invention for radio frequency ‘signal hopping’ to defeat enemy jamming signals, allowing Allied Forces to hide their torpedoes from the Nazi forces. Signal hopping is the concept behind secure WiFi, BlueTooth and GPS used today.

At the time of her patent, Lamarr was more widely recognized for her beauty as a big-screen movie star than her brain as an inventor. But she did find allies in Howard Hughes and John F. Kennedy, who supported her with equipment to invent and experiment in her actor’s trailer.   Lamarr, who died in 2000, was inducted into the Inventor’s Hall of Fame in 2014.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.



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