‘My professional dream is to investigate a large-scale attack’

Aseel Kayal, Security Researcher for the Kaspersky Global Research & Analysis Team (GReAT), shares her ideas for overcoming gender inequality in cybersecurity.

Not having your goals set out from day one doesn’t dismiss your accomplishments.

I don’t necessarily agree with the well-known phrase «Girls with dreams become women with vision,» because it indirectly implies that your past self is the one that shapes your current or future self. Not having your goals set out from day one doesn’t dismiss your accomplishments. There are many paths that can lead to success: some are motivated by old hopes and dreams, others by the desire to change and progress.

According to the 2021 Women in Tech report

38%
of women

claim that a lack of women in the tech industry makes them wary of entering the sector. And this is why that oft-mentioned snowball effect is so important. It seems like a chicken-and-egg situation to ponder whether more women in IT triggers industry change, or whether new behaviors can attract more women to the sector. In reality, especially with the influence of remote working, the challenge can be met from both sides.

For Aseel, it is vital to have a supportive working environment

When I was a child, I had two main hobbies — doing jigsaw puzzles and reading books. My favorite books as a child were the Harry Potter series, and my favorite character is Hermione Granger. When I grew up, I found my two main passions in studying computer science and English literature at Tel Aviv University. At some point I decided to focus on cybersecurity and took on a job in this field right after I graduated from university. So I’ve been working in the cybersecurity field for 4.5 years already, and recently joined Kaspersky. I’ve always been a fan of the research the Kaspersky team does, and I was happy to join the team. It just feels like the right place to work on the projects I am interested in.

 

Kaspersky is an international company and I consider myself lucky to be working with so many talented people from around the world — I learn new things from my colleagues all the time. Given the current situation, my interaction with the majority of my colleagues has been online, but I hope I will be able to meet them in person soon.

What I like most about my work is that there is always something new to learn, and the findings are used for a good cause, to protect people from online threats.

My research focuses on targeted attacks and APTs, I usually investigate threat groups that are active in the Middle East region, and the main challenge in such projects is understanding the bigger picture based on the small amount of evidence that is usually available.

 

What I like most about my work is that there is always something new to learn, and the findings are used for a good cause, to protect people from online threats. My professional dream is to investigate a large-scale attack. But it’s a double-edged sword, because at the same time I really hope such an attack will not occur and my services will not be needed.

Giving young women opportunities, mentoring them and introducing them to the field can be a way for the industry to overcome what society has imposed for so long.

 

 

 

According to the 2021 Women in Tech report, the most common pathway for women to learn of a role in IT or technology is currently through their own research (44%), showing that the onus is often on individuals to forge their own careers. A total of 10% fewer (33%) women were encouraged to find a technology or IT role while in education thanks to their school, college or university. Fewer still (19%) were encouraged to find one through female role models in their communities.

From what we have seen over the last couple of years I think we can definitely say that the number of women in IT is increasing, but it’s still a fraction in comparison to men, not to mention the lack of minority representation. Back when we used to physically attend conferences and events, the difference between the number of men and women was still quite visible, and I hope that improves in the future.

 

There are many factors that contribute to gender inequality in IT, and society is just one of them. I think the biggest problem is the lack of opportunity for young women, or generally people that are just starting out in the field. The bar is so high in IT that sometimes candidates are dismissed for not having years of experience, a second degree, or an expensive certificate from an exclusive institute. Giving young women opportunities, mentoring and introducing them to the field can be a way for the industry to overcome what society has imposed for so long.

 

As for how a woman can build her confidence as an IT specialist, I’d highlight that practice makes perfect: even if something looks difficult or unfamiliar at first, the only way to get better at something is simply by trying. We also need to be more forgiving of our own shortcomings and failures, because sometimes these make for the best learning experiences.

 

Building a supportive environment is also crucial, especially in a predominantly homogeneous setting where the «small percentage» is often overlooked. The best advice I’ve received in this regard is to try and place myself in the other person’s shoes. Only by attempting to see things from someone else’s perspective and not our own will we understand their struggles and be able to truly hear and support them.

 

My advice to women who are considering starting in IT is not to overwhelm themselves with too much information. This is a huge field with many specialties; therefore it’s best to start with a specific interest in mind such as learning a programming language, or studying networks, and to grow from there.

Empower women

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