People in Computing #5: Women who Shaped the Internet

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March 8, 2021
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omen have long and always been pivotal in the history of technology. From the earliest days of computing where rooms of women performed manual calculations for research to their roles in the development of technologies that shaped not only how we communicate and interact with one another, their inventions and contributions have defined us in ways we don't realize.

In this week's Select, we provide a snapshot of women whose contributions have shaped both the Internet and the technology's profound influence in our lives. From the development and management of ARPANET to building relationships that brought the Internet to China, each profile presents a small slice of a rich history of leadership and innovation that has made the Internet what it is today.

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Elizabeth Feinler

Elizabeth Jocelyn “Jake” Feinler is an information scientist who pioneered and managed both Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) and the Defense Data Network (DDN), early networks that were the foundations of the Internet as we know it. 

Feinler ran the Network Information Center (NIC) while at the Stanford Research Institute (now SRI International), the latter of which having been among the first institutions included in ARPANET. As part of her work, Feinler created the first ARPANET Resource Handbook, which in turn led to the development of the ARPANET directory. As recognition for both her expertise and work increased, she and her team compiled and wrote documentation and standards to help users access ARPANET’s ever-expanding network of computers. In addition, her group was responsible for WHOIS, the first query-based network host name address server used to store information on registered/assignees of an Internet resource. Finally, Feinler and group oversaw the management of the Host Naming Registry from 1972 to 1989, and the developers of the top-level domains of .mil, .gov, .edu, .org, and .com.

Feinler was appointed Delegate at Large to the White House Conference on Libraries and Information Center. She has been a member of ACM, ASIS, ISIS, was a founding member of the Internet Engineering Task Force, and was among the inaugural inductees into the Internet Hall of Fame.


Lixia Zhang

Lixia Zhang is a Professor of Computer Science at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and a renowned computer scientist with vast expertise in computer networks. Through her work, she pioneered the development of named data networking, designed the Resource Reservation Protocol (RSVP) and led to the implementation of the first IPv6 multicast routing protocol. Lixia also coined the term “middlebox” which is widely used today to refer to any network device that performs other functions other than that of a typical router. 

In 1986, Lixia co-founded the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) which is an open standards developing organization that develops technical standards which guide and influence how people design, use, and manage the Internet. At their initial meeting, she was the only woman and student in attendance.

Jointly with Amin Vahdat of Google, Lixia won the 2020 SIGCOMM Lifetime Award for Networking, which is the top ACM networking award. She was also an ACM Fellow in 2006 and a recipient of the IEEE Internet Award 2009.

Her journey is truly inspiring, starting from driving tractors in China to making significant contributions to fundamental building blocks of the Internet. In our respective career pursuits and journeys, she encourages us all to remember to enjoy life, broaden our world and to think differently.
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Believe it or not, my first paid job was a tractor driver on a farm in northern China. Hard work, good luck, and especially great help from many great people transformed me to a graduate student at MIT in September 1981. Ever since then, I set my career goal to help the Internet grow.”
Lixia Zhang,
Professor of Computer Science, University of California, Los Angeles

Erna Schneider Hoover

Drawing inspiration from Marie Curie’s achievements and legacy, Erna Hoover was determined to make her mark in the scientific field. Using her knowledge of symbolic logic and feedback theory, Hoover invented a computerized switching system for telephone traffic which resulted in a much more robust system capable of managing and solving the overloading problem experienced during busy call hours.

The principles of her invention are still in use today, and for this achievement, she went on to become the first female technical supervisor at Bell Labs, was awarded one of the first software patents (US Patent No. 3,623,007) and is inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
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Radia Perlman

Radia Perlman is a renowned network engineer and computer scientist whose work has made significant contributions to Internet routing and network design. She is widely recognized for her work on link-state routing protocols, with respect to the improvements made to the intermediate-system to intermediate-system (IS-IS) routing protocol and for her work on the Spanning Tree Protocol (STP). She has also made significant contributions to network security such as on trust models for Public Key Infrastructure (PKI), data expiration, and on resilient distributed algorithms. 
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Hu Qiheng

Hu Qiheng is a Research Professor of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering. 

In 1994 Hu Qiheng led the National Computing and Networking Facility of China (NCFC) Management Committee that brought the Internet to mainland China. As the then-Vice President of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, she petitioned China’s request for Internet access to the National Science Foundation of the United States (NSF), the acceptance of which paved the way for the productive discussions at the subsequent  China-US Joint Commission Meeting on Science & Technology Cooperation in Washington, D.C. that April. These discussions were fundamental in setting up the first direct TCP/IP connection in China via the NCFC on April 20, 1994.

Hu Qiheng founded the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) in 1997, an administrative agency tasked with the operation and development of resources for the Internet in China. She also co-founded and became the president of the Internet Society of China, a civil society with the goal of promoting the continued development of the Internet in China, in 2001, using her position to advocate for Internet installment in the outskirts of China. Hu was inducted into the Internet Hall Fame in 2013 for contributions in the field.

Hu is also considered an early pioneer in the field of pattern identification and artificial intelligence in China. 
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Anne-Marie Eklund Löwinder

Anne-Marie Eklund Löwinder is Chief Information Security Officer at Internetstiftelsen (IIS), the Internet Foundation in Sweden. She is known for her work in the implementation of the Domain Name System Security Extensions (DNSSEC). 

The Domain Name System (DNS) is effectively the Internet’s telephone directory - it allows readable web addresses to be used in lieu of unique IP addresses. DNS was designed in the 1980s, when the Internet was significantly smaller and online security was not a primary consideration in its design. This, in turn, would eventually be taken advantage of to perform spoofing attacks, cyber-attacks where malefactors could falsify data in order to access a users’ system, gain their data, and/or hide their location. 

Löwinder was among the innovators critical in the development of DNSSEC, a set of extensions to DNS that strengthens the system’s authentication using digital signatures based on public key cryptography. She has long since been instrumental in the development of the technology and its usage procedures and currently serves as part of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)’s Registry Services Technical Evaluation Panel (RSTEP), the technical team responsible for evaluating requests for new domain registry services. 

Löwinder has been involved with the Council of European National Top-Level Domain Domain Registries (CENTR) and Swedish Law & Informatics Research Institute (IRI), among other internet-related organizations. She has received an honorary lifetime achievement award from the Internet Society (ISOC) for her work and was inducted in the Internet Hall of Fame in 2013.


Borka Jerman Blažič 

Borka Jerman Blažič is a computer networks scientist and full professor at University of Ljubljana, Department of Economics and is heading the Laboratory for Open Systems and Networks at Josef Stefan Institute. She is a Slovenian Internet pioneer and president of the Internet Society in Slovenia, and was instrumental in the introduction of the first Internet services in the former SFR Yugoslavia in 1991. She has also made contributions to the internationalization of Internet services with respect to different cultural contexts. 
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Notable mentions

  • Nancy Hafkin, for her contributions in bridging the technology gender divide and promoting information and communications technology in Africa and other developing areas, with particular emphasis on gender. [ Read their bio ]
  • Stephanie Wehner, for her work and contributions to the development of the “Quantum Internet” [Read their bio] [Learn more]

Further Reading

  • Networking Network Women (N2Women): a discipline-specific community of researchers in the fields of networking and communications. [ Visit their site ]
  • Rising Stars and Stars in Computer Network and Communications: N2Women's list of emerging professionals in the field. [ Visit their site ]

THere's More

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