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Friends, colleagues remember Tracys Landing homicide victim as ‘certified genius,’ leader in cybersecurity field

The past two years have been some of the happiest of Juanita Koilpillai’s life, her best friend Connie Moore recalled Thursday.

The 58-year-old cybersecurity executive had entered a new chapter of her life. She adored her boyfriend, cherished her new waterfront Tracys Landing home on the Chesapeake Bay and the start-up company she founded was making strides to provide other businesses with much-needed protection from ransomware attacks.

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Koilpillai was reported missing around 3:30 p.m. Sunday after her boyfriend found blood inside the home on the 6300 block of Genoa Road. Police located her body outside and a medical examiner ruled Tuesday she was killed by sharp force injuries. Anne Arundel County police investigating the homicide did not have an update on the case as of Thursday.

Koilpillai’s friends described her as a master gardener, a celebrated chef, a charismatic hostess and a brilliant technology professional. She flew planes and produced community films with her ex-husband and traveled the world with her friends and their families.

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Juanita Koilpillai, 58, loved music, her son and daughter and horse races. She took delight in wearing bonnets custom at race tracks, said her friend Michaela Lorga.
Juanita Koilpillai, 58, loved music, her son and daughter and horse races. She took delight in wearing bonnets custom at race tracks, said her friend Michaela Lorga. (Photo courtesy of Michaela Lorga)

Even though she worked non-stop creating several successful start-ups, Koilpillai still developed deep relationships with friends, several of whom said they consider her a sister.

“I’ll say (she was) a certifiable genius,” said Dr. Ron Martin, a close friend and professor at Capitol Technology University.

Koilpillai grew up in Sri Lanka and India and studied mathematics at Women’s Christian College in Madras, India. She earned a master’s in computer science and mathematics at University of Kansas. She worked in computer security and network management for 30 years, according to her company’s biography. She also contributed to the National Institute of Standards and Technology and acted as a consultant to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Moore said.

Koilpillai was a member of FEMA’s enterprise security management team and served as a principle investigator for several U.S. Department of Defense initiatives, according to her biography for Cloud Security Alliance. Partnered with her ex-husband, Koilpillai created Cyberwolf, an advanced automated attack warning system used by the government. They later sold the company to cybersecurity software company Symantec.

“To grow a startup into a great company and then sell it to a bigger technology company was an incredible accomplishment,” Moore said. “But to do it as a woman, to do it as a as a person of color, just speaks volumes about her tenacity, about her brilliance, about her business acumen, about her technology expertise, it was extraordinary.”

“Then, she did it again.”

After selling Cyberwolf, Koilpillai then founded and served as CEO of Waverley Labs and started a new high-tech start-up in June called “Resiliant,” a pioneering company that focuses on software defined perimeters as a method to secure information. She received a grant from the Department of Homeland Security to bring the software to the commercial market.

“The vision she had for Resiliant ... she said all this time ‘We’ve had these cybersecurity problems (such as ransomware attacks); I still haven’t solved them. I’ve got something that can solve it,” said Peter Zawadzki, a friend, partner and manager at Resiliant.

Koilpillai was one of the first implementers of the concept for software defined perimeters, which protects applications from attackers, Martin said. As a leader in technology, Koilpillai always took time to mentor younger women in the field. As an accomplished professional, Koilpillai passionately believed in her craft. Her conversations with Martin’s college students left them feeling inspired, he said.

Martin described Koilpillai as a “quiet storm” who got riled up when other professionals didn’t listen to her, and later found out she was correct all along. But Koilpillai was never one to say “I told you so,” Martin said.

“If folks was to listen we all will be better off in our cybersecurity posture,” Martin said.

She also created a nonprofit called The Merge Foundation to teach students in various career paths about entrepreneurship. The foundation aims to mentor students, help them establish relationships with potential employers and hone their expertise in art, film-making, investments, and business, according to the foundation’s website.

Koilpillai, her son Drew and daughter Talia and her ex-husband lived on a historic 40-acre farm in Paeonian Springs, Virginia, called “Waverley Farms.” Koilpillai, who mastered the art of hospitality, held frequent dinner parties, inviting a range of characters to an evening of thought-provoking conversation and incredible South Indian dishes, Moore said. Koilpillai also loved music — she was in an all-girls rock band in India — and horse races. She took delight in wearing bonnets custom at race tracks, her friend Michaela Iorga said.

Having grown up near the water, Koilpillai moved from Virginia to Anne Arundel County to be close to the bay. Koilpillai immersed herself in Chesapeake life. She took sailing lessons, started a flourishing garden, and took nonstop photos of marina sunsets and the wildlife whose habitat she shared. Koilpillai particularly loved a herd of swans and named the birds individually.

“She was just so happy in that element,” Moore said. “We never could understand how she did it all. Because her friends were friends that did it all too, but we didn’t do it all at her level.”

“She was off the charts, living a full life in every aspect.”

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