In May 2021, a Russian ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline brought the major gas supplier to a standstill. It led to a massive fuel shortage, delayed flights and caused 17 states and Washington, D.C, to declare states of emergency.
The incident illustrated the vulnerability of our highly connected society and drove home the importance of cyber defense.
Bonnie Limmer '02 played a key role in the response to that breach — and uncovered important lessons that could prevent a future attack.
As the chief of production for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), Limmer works to identify and share information about cyber threats and vulnerabilities so organizations can safeguard themselves. In the aftermath of the Colonial Pipeline attack, Limmer's team produced an advisory that outlined the attacker's tactics and shared steps the cyber community as well as organizations and corporations could implement to prevent similar attacks in the future.
"In a U.S. cyber mission, the FBI is like the police and CISA is like the fire department," Limmer says. "We see the problem, rush to aid the victim and then gather information so we can educate the wider community. During that type of incident response, especially when there's public pressure and media attention, the operational tempo is high. You're trying to quickly weave pieces of information from various sources into a clear understanding of what happened and what to do about it — it requires strong communication, trust and teamwork."
Limmer credits her Bucknell education for helping her develop those collaboration skills. Limmer was a classics and English — literary studies double-major who wouldn't have predicted her career path.
After graduating, she took a technical writing job with a contracting company in support of the Office of Naval Intelligence. Her interest in learning new skills and willingness to lean into uncertainty eventually led to a position as a cybersecurity analyst for a contractor that worked with the FBI and the U.S. Department of Energy.
"While there are technical aspects to cybersecurity, at its core, it's really about connecting with people — the people behind the machines. I wake up every day surrounded by people who are trying to do good things for our society and help each other."