Exchange, Learn, Grow - Review of the WISC Workshop 2023

From 27 to 29 June, 2023, the Cluster of Excellence CASA invited outstanding female* students, PhDs and postdocs from the field of IT security to the Women in Security and Cryptography (WISC) workshop in Bochum.

Copyright: CASA

Copyright: CASA, Mareen Meyer

Copyright: CASA, Mareen Meyer

Copyright: CASA, Mareen Meyer

Copyright: CASA, Mareen Meyer

Copyright: CASA, Mareen Meyer

Copyright: CASA, Mareen Meyer

IT Security meets Industrial Culture
After the successful (digital) premiere of the Women in Security and Cryptography (WISC) Workshop in 2021, this year's workshop took place on site in Bochum. The 50 female* participants from twelve different countries who had successfully applied to take part met in the Dampfgebläsehaus of the Jahrhunderthalle Bochum. In the middle of the grounds of the impressive industrial monument, a diverse program of lectures, mini-workshops, poster presentations, lightning talks and networking activities awaited the participants on the three workshop days. During a short guided tour, they were also able to descend into the "underworld" of the Jahrhunderthalle and get even closer to the history of the Ruhr region.

Sharing Knowledge and Networking
The Cluster of Excellence CASA has set itself the goal of using the WISC workshop as a platform for international young female* scientists to establish a network during their early-career stages, while at the same time offering the participants a valuable academic program. Thus, the first workshop day started with a "speed dating" to directly break the ice and establish first contacts. The cluster was able to attract high-ranking experts from academia and industry to speak on a variety of specialist topics during the three-days-workshop:

  • Cynthia Sturton, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: “Bringing Symbolic Execution to the Security Verification of Hardware Designs”.
  • Yixin Zou, Max-Planck-Institut für Sicherheit und Privatsphäre: "Learning from the People: A Human-Centered Approach in Security and Privacy Research”.
  • Shruti Tople, Microsoft Research: “Unlocking the Vault: Analyzing Data Leakage in Language Models”.
  • Maria Eichlseder, Technische Universität Graz: „Ascon - The new NIST standard for lightweight cryptography“.
  • Jade Philipoom, Google/Open Titan: “The Joy of Cryptographic Implementation”.
  • Claudia Diaz, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven: “The Nym network: Incentivized mixnets”.

The speakers' talks, as well as the participants' lightning talks and poster presentations, provided an opportunity to learn about new research topics, discuss open research problems, and exchange ideas.

Supporting and Promoting
A special highlight of the first day of the workshop was the awarding of an honorary doctorate to computer scientist Tal Rabin. With this award, the Faculty of Computer Science at Ruhr University Bochum honored both Tal Rabin's outstanding scientific achievements in the field of cryptography and her decades-long commitment to supporting young female* scientists. In her laudation, her colleague Tal Malkin emphasized how much Tal Rabin has decisively shaped not only her own life, but also that of countless other people in the scientific community - as a "researcher, mentor, friend, mother, daughter, colleague, boss, role model." Tal Rabin, who created WISC's sister conference - Women in Theory - was also the keynote speaker at the first Women in Security and Cryptography workshop in 2021.

Making Decisions and Making Mistakes
The participants received personal insights, honest words and advice, especially on the second day of the workshop: In the panel discussion on the topic of "Academia vs. Industry: Opportunities and Challenges", the panelists, including Friederike Schneider, Managing Director of the startup incubator Cube 5, spoke about important insights and experiences they have made in the course of their personal career paths as well as the compatibility of family and career. Together with the participants, they reflected on the different roles that one combines as a scientist, making decisions and essential skills such as setting boundaries and prioritizing.

The panel was moderated by CASA PI Veelasha Moonsamy, co-organizer of WISC 2023, who noted that the choice of topic for the panel discussion was largely driven by the motivation letters of the participants.

"To me, this shows that the next generation of young female* security researchers are actively thinking about their career paths, whether it is in academia or industry. There is hope that we can gradually work on fixing the "leaky pipeline" when it comes to attracting and retaining female* talents."

The last day of the workshop started with Jana Bodenstedt introducing the eurobits women academy (ewa) to the participants and talking to them about her personal experiences of entering the cybersecurity field. Later that day, two mini-workshops were then held to provide the opportunity to gain practical knowledge - on preparing and implementing scientific presentations and on allyship and networks.

Farewell and Conclusion
Highly motivated and with valuable experiences and impressions in their luggage, the participants made their way home again - as Jiun Tang, Royal Holloway, University of London, summed it up:

"WISC 2023 offered me a great opportunity to learn. The program was put together very carefully by the CASA team, so we found a supportive environment in which to learn, talk about and present our research. We built our own little network to continue to inspire each other."

Marieke Dohrmann, organizer of the Women in Security and Cryptography workshop, was also positive about the successful event, saying,

"It's great to see so many young early career researchers from different countries coming together to learn, network, and talk about topics they are passionate about. I'm grateful to all the contributors that we were able to put together such a diverse, interesting program, and I'm glad that the participants were interested not only in technical topics, but also in conversations about how we can promote diversity in IT security and keep breaking down barriers."

Thank you to all participants, speakers and contributors! We are looking forward to WISC 2025!

More information and photos about WISC 2023

General note: In case of using gender-assigning attributes we include all those who consider themselves in this gender regardless of their own biological sex.