International Women’s Day: An interview with Yubico’s co-founder, Stina Ehrensvard

Today, on International Women’s Day, which is celebrated every year on March 8, we wanted to take a moment to recognize and celebrate a woman who has been more than instrumental to the success of Yubico – our co-founder, Stina Ehrensvard. 

Stina’s impact on Yubico serves as a reminder that women are crucial to shaping the future of technology. By highlighting her achievements and others like her, we hope to inspire more women to pursue careers in technology and pave the way for an even more inclusive and diverse industry.

We sat down with Stina, who recently transitioned from Yubico’s CEO to Chief Evangelist, and asked her a few questions to get more insight on Yubico’s start, the journey that was taken, and what she is focusing on next. 

What was the easiest and hardest thing about founding Yubico?

I’ve told the story many times, about how Yubico came to be. My husband Jakob, who is an internet security expert, told me that the security of my online bank was easy to break. To inform the bank about this risk, I called the bank’s customer service and told the guy on the phone line I have a friend who says it will take him less than a day to write the code that could empty my bank account. The response was ‘Please, tell your friend not to do that’ and it was a catalyst to start the company. 

The easiest part of starting Yubico was being inspired by the challenge of helping to solve this problem. I have a background in industrial product design, and at the time I had my conversation with the bank, I knew practically nothing about internet security. The poor security of my bank got me excited about the problem and helped me realize that phishing and account takeovers were the biggest threats to our modern society and to our future on the internet. 

The hardest part of starting Yubico was to convince the world – customers, investors, new team members, and industry analysts – that the strongest and the easiest authentication solution would be a new kind of hardware USB key, not a software application, a phone app or biometrics. It took three years, and not until Silicon Valley tech giants started to deploy our products, to get some tangible business momentum. And another decade of continued innovation, open standards work and advanced cyber attackers until our technology was more widely acknowledged as the Gold Standard for strong authentication. 

What excites you about your new role as Chief Evangelist, and what are you looking forward to most in the future?

Now, when the technologies proven to stop the biggest IT security problems are available, I am inspired by the challenge of educating more than a billion internet users of what I have learned as a tech entrepreneur and how to stay safe online. 

Research shows that around 90% of all breaches involve a breached password or other weak authentication method. The basic understanding of the different authentication solutions, and other simple things we can all do to cut 90% of breaches has however still not reached the masses. As an example, as we have seen in the last few weeks, Twitter changing their MFA policy regarding SMS has created some confusion for many of their users.

In my new role as Chief Evangelist my job will be to help take internet security education to a lot of non technical people. To reach a broader audience we cannot ask people to download a technical whitepaper, but if we make it more fun and entertaining there is a bigger possibility to succeed. Stay tuned – there’s lots more to come. 

What was the best piece of advice you have ever received?

There’s so many great pieces of advice that I have received over the years, but the single one that is something that I truly follow, is to do what you love and follow what makes you happy. I loved coming up with the idea of Yubico and the YubiKey almost two decades ago. I loved building, creating, and establishing a company that has shook up the market. I have loved seeing our brand, technology, partners and YubiTeam grow. And now, I love where I am, and I am truly excited to help educate the world on internet security and how everyone can stay safer online! 

Last week, you were named the most powerful international woman business leader by Swedish business press. Any comments on this?

This is an award made possible because of the many amazing women and men that I work with in Yubico, and our global customers and partners. I am a citizen of both the United States and Sweden, and share my time between both these countries that I love, while I collaborate with Yubico team members and partners around the globe. It is an honor to represent a much bigger international team that shares the same mission and values.

For this International Women’s Day, what’s your biggest piece of advice for young women entering the tech industry?

It is very true that women are still underrepresented in the field of technology, but I am seeing changes for the positive. I’ve had the pleasure to work and engage with some of the brightest female minds not only in technology but across all industries, and it’s exciting to see women continuing to excel in many fields. There are many women, like myself, who do not have an engineering degree who have fulfilling careers in a tech company. 

My advice to young women is to actually mirror the advice that I have had: if something makes you happy, drive towards it. Follow the path as you create it. Few people succeed alone, so try to always be respectful to everyone you encounter on your journey. If your dream is solving a big problem that is beyond your own personal interests, stay bold and kind and you will get help from unexpected places. You don’t have to have a detailed map to get there. You just need to have a North Star to be focused on. 

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