July 3, 2020

Cybersecurity #VersusRacism: How the industry is responding

By Lucy Ingham

In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, as industries, organisations and people around the world discussed the reality and impact of entrenched racism, the cybersecurity industry began to explore the issue for itself.

In response, a group of cybersecurity professionals launched #VersusRacism, an initiative designed to tackle the problem of racism within infosecurity.

“The initiative was sparked by a conversation between a group of security professionals, namely FC, Oz Alashe, Becky Pinkard, Jess Barker and Kunjal Tanna,” the VersusRacism team tells Verdict.

“We who want to help the information security community be really clear on its collective position on racism. We also want to help our community play its part in putting an end to this inequality and injustice. Collective commitment seemed like a good way to start.”

Racism in the cybersecurity industry

The group launched the initiative not because it believes that cybersecurity is “especially racist” but “because as a society we have a long way to go and there is more that we can all do to ensure that racism can’t breathe within our spheres of influence”.

“Racism exists in almost all (if not all) industries at present. The cybersecurity industry is no different,” the group says.

“Of course the issues are complex and far from straight forward but the fact remains that any racism or discrimination is unacceptable. It is dangerous to single out any particular areas because within the industry as a whole we still have a long way to go.

“We care passionately about the cyber security industry. It is generally full of people that want to protect other people and make the world safer for all. Taking a stand on racism and helping to eradicate racism is one way we can do that.”

The #VersusRacism pledge: Tackling racism in cybersecurity

Core to the #VersusRacism initative is its pledge, which features prominently on the front page of its website, and vows to “show solidarity” and act to “actively support” Black people and People of Colour, as well as to “promote equality, respect and equal opportunities for all”.

This, the group says, was written “to help the information security community be really clear on its collective position on racism”.

“We also want to help our community play its part in putting an end to this inequality and injustice. In an ideal world, security professionals and companies that agree with the pledge will make this support public and then follow over time with an articulation about how they are going to play their part,” says the VersusRacism team.

“This is, in part, to elicit commitment to thought and action. But it is also to encourage others to do the same.”

And although the initiative is just weeks old, it has already attracted a strong response from the industry.

“So far the response has been amazing. We’re not surprised because we know that so many people within the infosec community feel passionately about doing the right thing and making the world better for all,” the group says.

“Most of us stand for equality and justice. For diversity and inclusion. This particular pledge to take a stand against racism aimed at Black people and all People of Colour is just a good way to make that clear.”

Stamping out racism in cybersecurity: Advice for the industry

For employers in the cybersecurity industry, the team behind the #VersusRacism initiative advises that the process starts with a genuine recognition of them problem.

“There is a whole range of this employers can do to tackle the issue,” says the team.

“It starts with acknowledging that this is an issue and making a decision to play their part in making things better. We have more information with some practical suggestions on what companies can do.”

It’s not just companies that can play a role, however. Those working in the field can also play their part.

“In an ideal world, security professionals and companies that agree with the pledge will make this support public and then follow over time with an articulation about how they are going to play their part. But of course, words and pledges are only a step,” they say.

“The real positive change happens when this is backed up by action. We’ve lots of ideas on the website about things people and organisations can do to help eradicate racism and create a more equal and just society for people of all races.”

Ultimately, the goal is to produce an infosec industry where racism has been completely eradicated.

“An infosec community that is truly free of racism will look incredibly diverse in terms of skin colour, racial backgrounds and ethnicities – at all levels and in all areas,” says the VersusRacism team.

“Decisions and judgements about people will not be affected by the colour of their skin. People of all colours will feel welcome and able to fully partake and succeed.”


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