Women in IT Security: Women to watch
Women in IT Security: Women to watch

Yan Zhu, software engineer, Yahoo

“I'm really happy to be one of the people at Yahoo thinking of encrypting mail,” says Yan Zhu.

Indeed, the software engineer notes, “We're pretty devoted to encryption for email so Yahoo servers cannot read your email.”

That mission has led to a partnership of sorts with Google, which took the lead with its End-to-End tool, a Chrome extension first released in alpha last year and aimed, as the name implies, at providing encryption for email – from the time it leaves a user's browser until a recipient decrypts it. “Google took the lead and we're working from their work,” says Zhu, who explains that if the two large mail providers can ensure that messages are encrypted between their systems, then that would account for safeguarding the bulk of email.

Given the rising alarm over government surveillance and with a number of other privacy issues threatening, encryption, Zhu says, “has to be the future.”

Her interest in privacy was sparked and nurtured while she worked at the Electronic Frontier Foundation as a technologist. “I feel like being at EFF was a privileged position,” she says, noting that her work there on the Tor Project and HTTPs was with a small team, but one that “made a difference.”

She points out that Tor is no longer in the "dark corners” of the internet, emerging as a much-needed tool for not only whistleblowers, like Edward Snowden, who are leaking documents, but for others who require anonymity.

Zhu recently discovered that her own “default email client was configured to leak IP addresses” and when she realized she couldn't change it, she used her email in conjunction with Tor to hide those addresses.

Being able to encrypt and protect data will become increasingly important, she says, as the Internet of Things (IoT) comes to fruition. “In a world where there are a lot more sensors,” she explains, “it's important that all data for sensors is encrypted when sent to the server that's processing it.” And, given her jones for encryption, that's just the kind of initiative that should make Zhu very happy. – TR