The door to Cathy Hubbs’ (BSIS ’97) corner office is always open. Passing staff wander in to seek her counsel, and she’s surrounded by reminders of what brought her to this place. Photos of her family dot her desk and bookshelves, while her degrees and professional certifications hang on the walls.
The chief information security officer at American University in Washington, D.C., Hubbs is talkative and friendly. She manages very technical projects but can discuss her work in an open, easily understandable way. “Most people meet me and can’t believe this is the field that I’m in,” she says with a laugh.
Every day at herjob is different as Hubbs safeguards new and existing data. “Our data is stored on servers, smartphones,thumb drives—it’s all overthe place,” she explains. On some days she delivers security awareness training, helping staff and students avoid falling for email phishing attempts to steal data. Her team conducts face-to-face and online trainings and develops informative campaigns.
Other days, she advises university officials about which data must be classified as sensitive— “We think about reputational damage and identity and personal loss,” she says—and explains how the university should secure these data, from financial information to health records. To determine the best protection methods, she stays abreast of industry standards and federal and state regulations, and ensures thatthe university is following protocol. And ifthere is ever a data breach, she and herteam respond—working with the police if needed—though she spends quite a bit oftime making sure a breach doesn’t happen.
FINDING HER WAY
After many years in the business, Hubbs has excelled in an industry where men vastly outnumber women. But shewasn’t always sure of her path. Growing up in Seattle as a free spirit who loved the outdoors, she thought she would become a horticulturalist. She enrolled in Washington State University in the early 1980s and stayed for three semesters before deciding that horticulture wasn’t for her. She enlisted in the U.S.Air Force and used her last free summer to travel through Europe alone. When she returned to the country in late 1984, she was stationed at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C.
Her stint atthe base was life-changing. She married another Air Force service member, and they had a daughter. After she was honorably discharged in 1986, Hubbs began assisting the librarian in the Navy Center for Applied Research in Artificial Intelligence, also in D.C. There, she discovered her calling. “Technology truly was taking off, and I got on board,” she says.
By the 1990s, Hubbs was efficiently using email at work—a new practice at the time—and was beginning to see how important the Web would become. After she left the Navy Center, she took on roles as an application developer and systems administrator, which led her to become George Mason University’s first director of IT security in 2002. She created the Northern Virginia school’s first computer security incident response team, staying there for five years before moving to her current position at American University.
Throughout her career, Hubbs has sought out education. She earned her bachelor’s degree in computer information systems from Strayer University and then her Master of Education in instructional design from George MasonUniversity. She became a member of the security council of EDUCAUSE, a nonprofit association that promotes the intelligent use of information technology in higher education. She also helped co-found the Virginia Alliance for Secure Computing and Networking, sharing best practices with other IT professionals who worked in higher education, and has mentored other women who work in the field.
Why all ofthe collaboration? “It really helps to partner with other people,” Hubbs says. “Security is challenging; it’s complicated. It’s important to be able to talk through complex concepts with others in your field.”
It also keeps Hubbs at the top of her game, so that her staff and business partners can rely on her. And she’s looking forward to what’s next. “Technology is always changing and it keeps you on your toes,” she says. “There is always a problem to be solved."