InfoSec Blog - Diversity and Inclusion in Technological World

Diversity

July 27th, 2020

Over the years, technology has come a long way. Since 1946, when the first computer ‘ENIAC’ covered 1,800 square feet, we now live in a time where AI assistance like ‘Siri’ and ’Alexa’ are a basic part of the modern household and owning a smartphone is seen as a necessity. From our watches to our cars, technology has become a part of our everyday life. There is no denying there have been technological advances in software and hardware bits and bytes, but has it progressed in such human issues as diversity and racism?

For instance, since the beginning, technology has used terminology which can be perceived as offensive to some racial backgrounds:

  • Master/Slave terminology has existed in the industry for a long time. The existence of this terminology has been deeply rooted into the technical contexts and can be prominently seen in many printed books, manuals, internet and is also commonly used on many platforms.

  • In cyber security the term black hat hacker is used to refer to individuals who use their computer skills to harm or damage the computer and perform criminal activities, while white hat hackers are those who perform ethical hacking to check for computer vulnerabilities

  • In software testing black box testing is when the user does not have knowledge of its internal structure or design and is working with something unknown, whereas white box testing is when the user is aware of the structure

  • Cambridge Dictionary states Blacklist as ‘list of people, countries, etc. who are considered by a particular authority or group to be unacceptable and who should be avoided and not trusted’ while whitelist as the ones acceptable and trusted. The terms originated in 1600’s and have since been commonly used by many organizations.

The origin of these terms date back many centuries and shines a light upon the outdated thinking that has led to the existence of many discriminatory references. Following these standards created by our ancestors has also cultivated unconscious bias towards the black community.

Recently, inspired by racially motivated movements, there has been awareness regarding this inappropriate racial terminology and its insensitivity towards the abolished practice of slavery. Though these terms are still in practice, the criticism received has started many conversations and is seen as a step forward in the right direction for equality and inclusion of the diverse population. The talk has already started transforming outdated terms to new inclusive and acceptable ones, moving away from the practice of assigning positive connotations to “white” while assigning negative connotations to “black”. Cisco Talos, in recognition of this injustice, is working towards replacing the terms ‘blacklist’ and ‘whitelist’ with ‘block list’ and ‘allow list’. GitHub has also stepped forward and is working on changing “master” to more neutral terms. The internet and social media platforms have shown to be a great means of spreading awareness to this sensitive matter and helped people from all regions of the world to stand together in solidarity. Small steps towards recognition can lead to a big change on how the world perceives individuals from different races and backgrounds, and how our future will be shaped.

Working at CCS has been a great experience for me. I have been fortunate to be part of the Information Security team which is a perfect blend of wonderful people from different parts of the world. Being a woman of color, working in a diverse office environment has really enhanced my experience. It has made me feel more accepted while sharing my opinions and comfortable when approaching my co-workers. I believe it is important to have a diverse environment not only for inclusion of all employees but also for the growth of the organization. Different individuals bring unique thought processes and skills which help eliminate various issues which could be overlooked by having people with the same outlook during decision making. 

The University of Guelph aims to “Improve Life” and to create an inclusive and supporting environment on. To create an accepting society and fight racism at UofG, the university is introducing a mandatory online anti-racism training module for all incoming students. It is also working on offering a for-credit antidiscrimination course and fund scholarships for Black and racialized students. More information can be found here on the message from AVP of diversity and Human Rights. In this spirit, the Information Security team has started looking at the terminology in use and is working towards phasing out the use of terms that could be viewed as offensive.

 

Written by: Disha Singh (Co-op, Information Security)