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Finding Inspiration on Ada Lovelace Day

dawnisabel ‎10-15-2013 06:15 AM - edited ‎09-25-2015 10:12 AM

377px-Ada_Lovelace-small.jpgToday is the fifth annual Ada Lovelace Day, a worldwide celebration of women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).   The aim of Ada Lovelace Day is to “raise the profile” of women in STEM by talking and writing about the women whose work inspires us.


It was harder than I thought it would be to choose just one woman to write about - even when only considering the “T” in STEM.  I decided to treat this as a forward-thinking exercise - instead of talking about someone who has inspired me in the past, I chose to seek out someone whose work could inspire me going forward.  This had the side benefit of introducing me to many, many interesting projects and ideas both inside and outside the information security community as I researched this post.  Ultimately, I decided to write about three researchers and hackers who are doing really cool work in tech. 


Hacking Cars and Coffee


Tiffany Rad is a security researcher on Kaspersky Lab’s Global Research and Analysis Team as well as an attorney and adjunct professor of computer science.  I first heard about her a few years ago when she was publicizing OpenOtto, the car-hacking project she co-founded.  Since then, she has not only researched security vulnerabilities in cars, but also led hackathons focused on teaching others to find them.  Tiffany has presented on SCADA and programmable logic controller (PLC) vulnerabilities in the prison system (with John Strauchs and Teague Newman), the most serious of which could be used to unlock cell doors.  Her most recent project involved hacking a coffeemaker to respond to commands from a Twitter feed to demonstrate the risks inherent in home automation (spoiler: if you hack a coffeemaker, one of the risks is FIRE).


 From a Knitting Machine, a Smarter Scarf


 Fabienne Serrière is a long-time hardware hacker and reverser as well as a systems engineer at SysEleven.  While I've read about Fabienne in the past, I somehow managed to miss the fact that she is a prolific hacker of 1980's knitting machines.  It all began with a game (Multithreaded Banjo Dinosaur Knitting Adventure 2D Extreme!) written over a five-day hackathon in collaboration with Travis Goodspeed and Arjan Scherpenisse.  Built using a hacked knitting machine (based on the previous work of Limor Fried and Becky Stern), the 8-bit two-player game immortalized winners in a customized knitted panel "printed" on the knitting machine.  Fabienne has continued to experiment with knitting on the same hacked Brother KH930e, drawing inspiration from nature and mathematics.  As a knitter and lover of all things mathy, I am fascinated by her knitting patterns, including her wolfram 1d cellular automata scarf (the code for which is written in Processing) and her algorithmically morphing scarf.  You can see the knitting machine in action and hear more about how it has been modified in The Wonderful, Wooly World of Hacked Knitting Machines.


 On Keys Found and Factored


Nadia Heninger is a researcher in security and cryptography as well as an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Pennsylvania.  Her research has included the infamous cold boot attacks and reconstructing RSA private keys, but she is probably best known for her work on repeated and factorable SSL public keys, presented at the Real World Crypto workshop at Stanford.  There's a summary of the research in her blog post on the topic, including the fact that Nadia and collaborators Zakir Durumeric, Eric Wustrow, and Alex Halderman were able to factor 0.4% of all the public keys used for SSL website security.  And if that's not impressive enough, I hear she can also factor DSA keys in her head.  Okay, maybe that last one isn't true, but her work in cryptography is definitely meme-worthy.


Now it's your turn.  Who inspires you?  Tell us in the comments, in a tweet with hashtag #ALD13, or register your own blog post at  Happy Ada Lovelace Day!

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