IWD2019: These women are taking action for a gender balanced cybersecurity industry

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It’s on every lip, every poster, billboard, screens, and manages to fit into the 260 characters of a tweet. But honestly, every single day is women’s day. And every lady in the world deserves to be appreciated for her good work.

The International Women’s Day is a day set aside to recognize the extraordinary acts of women and to stand together, as a united force, to advance gender equality around the world.

This year, The International Women’s Day 2019 campaign theme of #BalanceforBetter is a call-to-action for driving gender balance across the world.

Today we are celebrating some of the queens we know, some Queens ‘we stan for’ (slang). Some Queens who are constantly working to create an enabling environment for the next young lady to thrive. These women have constantly outdone themselves through their passion, and contributions from mentoring, knowledge sharing, capacity building and more.

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We asked our queens how they got started. What advice they may have for those just starting in cybersecurity. And what their thoughts were on how to achieve a gender balanced industry.

So let’s get started shall we?

IWD2019: 5 WOMEN FORGING FOR GENDER BALANCE IN CYBERSECURITY

  1. Sherifat Akinwonmi

#BalanceforBetter #IWD2019

SS: Please tell us, who is Sherifat Akinwonmi?

Sherifat is another woman in Tech to identify with. She heads the Technology department of GSK Nigeria and is responsible for all technology services for the organization. She was formerly the head information security at Interswitch, she is an IT security professional and very experienced at strategically helping organizations meet their IT security objectives, securing their information by formulating and implementing policies and procedures that are themed to the organizational needs and ensuring end to end information security.

SS: How did you get started in cybersecurity? And what would you say has helped you more over the years you’ve worked in this field?

I started off in Information security when I bagged a distinction in Information Security and management from the university of Salford, UK. Before this, I obtained a first class from Bowen University, Iwo, Nigeria. After that, i also obtained several other certifications, latest being CCISO by ec-council. The passion for information security, “catching the bad guys” continuously drives me.

SS: What’s one piece of advice/encouragement you’d like to give out to those looking to get started in this field

A piece of advice is “take time to invest in your self” follow your passion passionately, when you do what you enjoy, you will always excel. If there are barriers move, jump over or push them away to achieve your dreams. No other person will chase your dreams for you. For instance, if knowledge is the barrier, get the required knowledge. Invest in yourself!!!

SS: What do you think is the best way to achieve a gender balanced cybersecurity industry (given the theme of this years IWD – balance for better)

 

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I believe it’s already happening. I believe a lot of support is now and more available than before. So i would encourage and welcome more women to join Tech and Cybersecurity. It is a fantastic career and it’s really cool.

2. Nkiruka, Joy Aimienoho

#BalanceforBetter #IWD2019

SS: Please tell us, who is Nkiruka Joy Aimienoho?

Nkiruka devotes her craft to promoting Cybersecurity & Business continuity strategy, implementation, and awareness. She works as a Cybersecurity, Business continuity and Resilience consultant. When she is not commanding the keyboard, mentoring aspiring tech/cybersecurity females, working on IT projects or giving remarkable tech presentations, you can find her enjoying a good laugh with friends, watching an excellent comedy, or lost in a good book.

She currently heads the IT standards team at Digital Jewels and works for various clients across multiple sectors and countries. Leading teams; she has helped client organizations achieve business resilience, compliance, and maintenance to international standards; allowing them to solve difficult business challenges.

SS: How did you get started in cybersecurity? And what would you say has helped you more over the years you’ve worked in this field?

I began my career working with MTN on the Information systems service desk, I was fascinated by the dynamics of the Information security space, so I seized an opportunity to chat with the GM of the department, Ama Kalu. Explained to him I wanted to do more, work on bigger Infosec projects, and solve difficult business challenges.

He advised that I join a niche in IT GRC; with a strong recommendation for Digital Jewels Limited. That’s how I met Adedoyin Odunfa a matriarch in this space, and the rest is history.

Since then, i worked on different aspects of cybersecurity such as Business continuity management, Cybersecurity strategy and awareness, Information security management and the implementation of various IT Standards for client firms, e.g., ISO 22301, ISO 27001, PCI DSS, ISO 20000 and more.

IWD2019: 5 WOMEN FORGING FOR GENDER BALANCE IN CYBERSECURITY

SS: What would you say has helped or worked for you over the years?

With all sense of humility, I have been a product of God’s grace above everything. On my part, being diligent in building competence, working with teams to achieve great things, having an enormous appetite for knowledge, teamwork, having mentors (virtual and physical), building life-long relationships and networking have been pivotal to my achievements.

Also, my husband has been central to my career, he’s been immensely supportive and makes it possible for me to do what I do, even with little kids.

SS: What’s one piece of advice/encouragement you’d like to give out to those looking to get started in this field

If I had a bit of advice to give entrants it would be, you have got all it takes to do this.

There are a plethora of career paths and industry choices in this space such as compliance, digital forensics, security awareness and training, cybersecurity tech writing, Governance/assurance, Information security, security architect, cybersecurity product marketing, application security, incident response, security program management, and more.

Find what rocks your boat and master it. Yeah! The techie bit is significant; however, both the non-techies and techies play an integral role in this cyber dynasty. Don’t expect to be an expert from the outset; this job is for anyone who is intellectually curious and willing to learn.

You may find this article i put together really useful – 5 remarkable reasons to join the cybersecurity industry, here: 

SS: What do you think is the best way to achieve a gender balanced cybersecurity industry (given the theme of this years IWD – balance for better)

 

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Even though it is changing, I believe gender inequality begins at home where some outdated assumptions on gender roles still exist. Awareness campaigns should be tailored to change gender stereotypes and unconscious biases at the home front and in schools. Girls can be tech-savvy. They should be encouraged to take healthy risks and cultivated to see themselves as tech experts.

Additionally, to combat the patriarch norm in the workplace, success stories of diversity should be shared with leaders to drive investments that bolster a balanced cybersecurity industry. Diversity is integral to this cause, as it includes divergent thinking/perspectives, a vibrant ecosystem of thought and understanding; that engenders the best possible outcomes in business.

IWD2019: 5 WOMEN FORGING FOR GENDER BALANCE IN CYBERSECURITY

 

3. Mosimilolu Odusanya

#BalanceforBetter #IWD2019

SS: Please tell us, who is Mosimilolu Odusanya?

I am a CyberSecurity Senior Consultant with KPMG Nigeria. I have experience carrying out enterprise IT audits, assisting organizations with assessing and planning information security programs, executing penetration testing, benchmarking the enterprise IT environment against information security standards and best practice frameworks.
I am very passionate about food, technology and travel.

I love travelling because it enables me to get away from “normal life”, experience new cultures, food and places.

SS: How did you get started in cybersecurity? And what would you say has helped you more over the years you’ve worked in this field?

I had just finished my bachelor’s degree in Computer Engineering and was looking for something to specialize in for my Masters. Read on LinkedIn about new trends in technology or so and CyberSecurity was one of them. It sounded interesting (you know hacking and stuff). So, i ended up studying Information Security at University College London. I also took some courses and had worked as a SharePoint Administrator. I had some Windows Server knowledge and experience so this helped me to excel.

For what has helped me: During my interview at KPMG, I remember telling the partner who interviewed me that my long term goal was to be known as a thought leader in the Cyber Security field. So, now everything I do is geared at working towards this goal.

To be honest, having an Infosec community (NaijaSecCon and SheSecures) has helped my growth ALOT. When people discuss their issues or experiences, I usually read about it and save a lot of the discussions for research later on.
In addition, when I first started, I went on LinkedIn and searched for Cyber Security professionals in Nigeria and added them. I still do this till today.

SS: What’s one piece of advice/encouragement you’d like to give out to those looking to get started in this field

There is no standard pathway. Security is very broad and there are a lot of domains. So you have to do your research and decide what domain you want to follow. You can do the following:
1. Follow people in the CyberSecurity field – they are always sharing tips/tricks/ideas

2. Take online courses (Udemy, Coursera etc.) and certifications (CEH, LPT etc.)

3. Attend conferences/bootcamps e.g. NaijaSecCon CyberSecurity Conference, SheSecures Bootcamp etc.

4. Participate in CTF (Capture the Flag) events.

IWD2019: 5 WOMEN FORGING FOR GENDER BALANCE IN CYBERSECURITY

4. Imane Boumlik

SS: Please tell us, who is Imane Boumlik?

My name is Imane Boumlik from Morocco. Started with an engineering diploma in Telecommunication and IT from a Moroccan engineering school (INPT). Then, a Master of Science in “Ubiquitous Networking and Computing” from Sophia-Antipolis university in France (through a French scholarship). I have been working in cybersecurity since 2013.  Also represented Morocco in the studies of women leadership in United States (SUSI program) through debating the impact of women in IT and I am an active mentor in coursera platform for an Information Security course.

Currently i work in Security Governance, Risk management, Audit, Incident response and Crisis management. My background covers Network security, Pentesting, Cryptography, SOC and Cyberthreat monitoring.

SS: How did you get started in cybersecurity? And what would you say has helped you more over the years you’ve worked in this field?

I started my “official” career in cybersecurity as a security engineer (intern) for 6 months in a research centre in France. There i worked on designing cryptographic algorithms to secure data in a Cloud storage.  Instead of pursuing a Phd, I decided that I wanted to get my hands dirty in a corporate environment and worked for a year as a Network Security engineer for VoIP company.

IWD2019: MEET THE WOMEN FORGING FOR GENDER BALANCE IN CYBERSECURITY

 

Through a “CTF-like competition, I landed a 1-year contract as an Ethical Hacker in Monaco. After achieving my mission, I flew back to my country and worked as an IT Security Engineer in a Bank besides its CISO designing cybersecurity security strategies. I had tasks from defining use-cases in a SIEM, auditing banking platforms to conducting information security awareness campaigns for employees, without forgetting handling cybersecurity incidents and major crisis that catch you off-guard at 2 in the morning (#flashback to the golden era of ransomware rise 😀 ). Right now, I work in a central financial infrastructure in my country as Information Security Risk Analyst, where I deal with questions regarding information security governance, ISMS management, risk and audit.

How my interests got sparked: My interest sparked in cybersecurity way before I graduated from high school (and definitely way before I knew the word “cybersecurity” :p). Truth to be told, I spent too many hours behind my screen trying to find bugs in video games to increase my score and unlock options (#don’t try it at home kids :D). Then I discovered the concept of bug bounty. Besides that, I believe studying cybersecurity from a scientific point of view really helped me get the grip of the field and structure my path. I think what got me going through the years is that I managed to transform a hobby into my daily job, never lost the passion and I still get the kick out of it.

 

SS: What’s one piece of advice/encouragement you’d like to give out to those looking to get started in this field

For all those out there who are looking to get started:  Cybersecurity is a large field, larger than IT itself since it touches on social behaviour and even politics. Try to work on many aspects of cybersecurity as possible until you find what area suits you best and run with it, meanwhile, you will have gained a polyvalent experience in the process.

Don’t let the glass ceiling in cybersecurity intimidate you and others underestimate you. Make your voice heard by your skills. A degree in security is good but continuous self-training in this fast-thriving field is even better. Get your foot in the door by engaging in cybersecurity challenges like CTF. Certification is a golden ticket in cybersecurity: invest in certificates like CEH , ISO 27001.

For beginners. You landed your first job? Great, but be a step ahead of the game and update yourself constantly on the new trends and the new threats. Cybersecurity needs women, who are endowed naturally with the attention to details and a meticulous mind for sharp analysis and a broad perspective.

 

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5. Iretioluwa Akerele

SS: Please tell us, who is Iretioluwa Akerele?

Iretioluwa is a seasoned Information Security and Business Continuity Professional who has acquired technical knowledge and practical experience in IT Governance, Risk and Compliance. She started her career in the Bank in Risk Management, after which she proceeded for her Masters in the United Kingdom in Information Security and Computer Forensics. She has about four years consulting experience and is currently an Information Security Manager in a Financial Technology organization.

SS: How did you get started in cybersecurity? And what would you say has helped you more over the years you’ve worked in this field?

I started my career in Cyber Security after i failed a professional examination twice. This motivated me to do something different from my current role. I took the bold step by resigning from the bank, going for my Masters in Information Security. Over the years, what has helped me is my quest for knowledge. Every day, i constantly try to improve myself and take up new challenges in this field. I have being part of organization’s success stories in Nigeria in relation to driving the information security culture. Occasionally, championing several awareness programs and making information security a thing to live by.

IWD2019: MEET THE WOMEN FORGING FOR GENDER BALANCE IN CYBERSECURITY

 

SS: What’s one piece of advice/encouragement you’d like to give out to those looking to get started in this field

To those looking to start a career in this field, never give up. The best way to start is by empowering yourself through training, self development or on the job learning. If you are not opportune to have any of these, seek professional advice from career mentors, Never give up on your Cyber Security dreams.

SS: What do you think is the best way to achieve a gender balanced cybersecurity industry (given the theme of this years IWD – balance for better)

The cyber security industry is gradually becoming Gender balanced. I have met a lot of wonderful women in this field doing wonders and taking up big challenges. It can get better by introducing cyber related courses in Nigerian universities and having a platform where young ladies interested in these courses are opportune to get scholarships to certain extents.

And it’s a wrap. We want to say a special thank you to all the ladies listed here. Thank you for taking out time from your busy days to answer our questions. We can’t wait to see more of your amazing projects. Lastly, thank you for been the light we all need in this industry and a happy women’s day again!!

 

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