A Cyber Lawyer Who's Ahead of Her Time

March 2015
Emily Frye
Emily Frye

In 1996, Emily Frye was in her final semester of law school and closing in on her dream of becoming a judge when a two-credit course on the law of electronic commerce changed her life. Today Frye helps the Department of Homeland Security develop strategies and policies to protect the nation's critical cyber infrastructure.

She is a principal engineer in MITRE's Homeland Security Systems Engineering and Development Institute. She's also a lawyer, consultant, author—and pioneer in the field of cyber law. After graduating from George Mason University School of Law in Arlington, Virginia, and finding almost no jobs available in the nascent realm of "electronic commerce," Frye opened her own practice. She also joined the Information Security Committee of the American Bar Association. And when a friend and fellow attorney suggested that she pursue speaking and writing opportunities to share her vision with the rest of the world, she followed his advice.

"In my head, cyber law was totally real and I didn't know why everyone didn't see it," she said. "It was clear that this was an area that was going to be profoundly important, yet no one knew the answers. That meant you could really think about it and build it from the ground up."

For Frye, much of that building process took place while she was working in the private sector. But after more than a decade helping corporations manage cyber risk and pursue growth opportunities, she had an "epiphany" that led her to MITRE in 2011. "I thought, 'Emily, you're supposed to be working on the problem [of cyber threats]—not on the corporate strategy for dealing with the problem,'" she says. "That meant working in the public interest, and MITRE was the right fit."

Coincidentally, another veteran cyber pioneer, MITRE staffer Burgess Allison, wrote one of the first books on Internet law, The Lawyer's Guide to the Internet. The book, first published in 1995, became popular around the time Frye entered the field.

Protecting the Most Critical Infrastructure

Since arriving at MITRE, Frye has played a key role in helping develop the DHS cyber vision and strategy across cyber and physical critical infrastructure, and has worked to identify and explore the best nationwide cybersecurity approaches for both the private and public sectors. She also works with DHS to bridge the divide between federal and state governments on cybersecurity initiatives and to strengthen public/private partnerships that will support critical infrastructure.

"Of all the critical infrastructure—transportation, energy, finance, telecommunications—I believe that cyber is the most critical of all," she says. "And the best way to defend it is to move away from this idea of raw protection toward one of resiliency. We recognize now that not every attack can be prevented, so the most important thing is to ensure that important functions can still operate even when there's been a breach."

Resiliency is a major focus now for Frye as she gets ready to embark on a new project that will take a "bottom-up" approach to national cybersecurity. Rather than relying solely on a top-down cyber directive from Washington, she's hoping to create a model to assist local communities in playing an equal role. Such a model will take into account the specific economic, transportation, communications, and other issues in any given area and demonstrate how a reasonable level of resiliency could be attained under these particular circumstances. Her new white paper on MITRE's approach to critical-infrastructure resiliency outlines this work in more detail.

True to her early roots in the field, Frye is still committed to sharing her vision of cyber law through articles and presentations. In a recent post on MITRE's Cyber Connections and Directions website, she described ways in which cybersecurity can be improved by upending presumptions. She has also written about the “Twilight Zone of Cyber Response.”

When Frye isn't planning the future direction of cyber law, she's likely to be found singing. She has performed The Brahms Requiem with the Washington Master Chorale and Baltimore Symphony, and regularly belts out tunes with a contemporary Christian rock band. She hopes one day to sing jazz in a piano bar.

—by Twig Mowatt

Are you a good fit for MITRE, too? Explore our current Job Openings.