Meet Victoria’s female cyber warriors

We profile three women working in cyber security in our state.

Even in the midst of coronavirus (COVID-19), cyber security achieved growth globally in 2020, being applied to everything from the US 2020 presidential election to neighbourhood startups.

The need to protect businesses in an increasingly digitised world, wherever they are and whatever their size, continues to trend.

Yet despite the fact that there’s a huge skills gap in the cyber industry and that demand outstrips supply, female representation in the sector is light on.

It remains a male-dominated industry that women have difficulty entering despite the need for more cyber engineers, analysts, architects and consultants to help safeguard businesses from hackers and phishers compromising the likes of security algorithms and identity protection.

The Australian Women in Security Network (AWSN), however, is helping to counter that gender anomaly via skills development, networking and mentoring to attract, retain and advance women in the cyber security space, bringing about inclusion as a result.

Meet three women who are part of that movement.

The New Recruit

Sarah Gurry: cyber security employee at Cydarm Technologies

Portrait of Sarah GurryNecessity, as the line goes, is the mother of invention. Sarah Gurry – an accomplished Melbourne professional singer/songwriter and pianist can relate.

Initially, Sarah was interested in the idea of a career shift in September last year, when she attended the annual Victorian Government supported Australian Women in Security (AWSN) Conference and Awards and was “astonished at the broad scope of roles in the sector and was really inspired”.

With COVID-19 restrictions underway, a chance came up for Sarah to work for Melbourne software development startup, Cydarm, established in 2017 by Silicon Valley and Australian Department of Defence alumnus, Dr Vaughan Shanks.

Turns out being a musician can equip you with cyber skills. Who knew?

“Initially I doubted any of my skills or experience would be industry-related or transferable as everything I knew about the cyber security field was based on the tech/hacker types you see in films!” Sarah laughs.

“I was encouraged by the fact that Cydarm's Chief Operating Officer, Ben Waters, was a former musician himself. In a short period of time I began to understand that working for Cydarm was in many ways like a performing band: every member needs to listen intently, respect every role a member plays, and remove ego from the stage. Only then do you become united in a harmonic sound that is far greater than your own.

Sarah’s advice for other women interested in a cyber career is to simply dive right into what is already a welcoming community.

“I guess it's a truism in every sector, but people want to help you if you're trying to help yourself,” she says. “So, get started in any way you can. Join forums, participate in conferences, introduce yourself to anyone who will have a chat over a coffee with you and become a member of the AWSN”.

The Trailblazer

Liz B: Co-founder of Australian Women in Security (AWSN) cadets

Portrait shot of LizLiz B (who prefers anonymity, hence the avatar image) has been working at ANZ Bank for two years as a cyber security analyst and engineer, following on from cyber roles with PwC Australia and BAE Systems.

“I’m passionate about cyber security and diversity. Information systems – and how they break – never ceases to fascinate me”, she says.

To help build the pipeline of female talent into the industry, as a volunteer Liz co-founded a job-outcome-focused not-for-profit outreach program, the AWSN Cadets in Melbourne in 2017 while finishing her IT degree at Swinburne University.

“AWSN Cadets helps connect, support and inspire female-identifying tertiary students and early career professionals to pursue a career in the security industry,” she explains.

The program includes workshops and mentoring opportunities in fields including but not limited to penetration testing (a form of ethical hacking), malware reverse engineering, GRC (governance risk and compliance), and digital forensics used to uncover computer crime.

And it has proven a winner.

The AWSN Cadets program was so popular, Liz was able to scale it up from a localized Melbourne pilot to a national community within three years. “We have programs running in Brisbane, Canberra, Adelaide, Perth, Sydney, and Melbourne now!”, Liz explains.

For now, though, the program is exclusively online, she adds. “We adapted rapidly to the existential challenges presented by COVID-19, implementing a shift away from local, physical events to a new national webinar format.”

Liz would like to thank her co-founders, fellow volunteers, and cadets program participants at the AWSN for their support and dedication over the last three years of the AWSN Cadets program. “When women work together, they become a force to be reckoned with. There is no AWSN – or AWSN Cadets – without you!”.

The Rising Star

Babanpreet Kaur: employed in the sector after signing up to AWSN cadets

Portrait shot of BabanpreetAs soon as she touched down in Melbourne from Amritsar, India in 2016 to begin a Masters of Information Technology at Deakin University – after previously attaining a bachelor’s degree at home in electronics and telecommunications – Babanpreet Kaur had already made up her mind that she wanted to enter the cyber security space.

So, when her Masters was done and dusted, she joined the AWSN cadets program in 2018 and started job hunting.

Babanpreet loved the program from the get-go.

“I liked the idea that it works towards decreasing the gender gap in cyber security by supporting women with all sorts of experience,” says the 27-year-old St Albans local. “And it’s giving university students and beginners the current industry trends. All the mentors are approachable, helpful and work towards uplifting women, providing a platform for them.

“The best thing about the program is an active

Slack workspace [a shared online hub] with different channels where an individual can post their concerns and the leads/industry mentors make sure the concerns are acknowledged.”

The program, says Babanpreet, has helped her “immensely” in the job stakes.

“It gave me an opportunity to network with industry professionals who guided me through the process of job searching, which eventually landed me in a role of Graduate Application Security Consultant in April 2018 at Pure Security, an organisation working with software developers to implement security in their software applications. From there on, there was no looking back and I am currently working as a Security Analyst in Loop Secure. I love learning new things; it’s a great team and a supportive work culture.”