Australian Cyber Week 2019 by Tamara Baker

Tamara Baker

My journey to becoming the first Australian Cyber Week champion commenced when I was awarded the ‘CSO Special Recognition’ award at the Women in Security Conference and Awards in September. It was at this event that I met the inspiring people at AustCyber who approached me with the opportunity to be the inaugural ‘champion’ of their awareness week.

Australian Cyber Week 2019 was officially launched on Monday 7 October by Dr Katie Allen MP (Federal Member for Higgins) and Michelle Price (CEO of AustCyber) – two impressive women. 

The event featured a panel discussion with Rachael Leighton (Principal Advisor, Cyber Strategy and Awareness, Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet) and Andy Lamrock (Verizon). They all highlighted the wealth of opportunities available within Australia – for example, through our reputation of linking excellent graduates with procurement for local start-ups.

The official launch was followed by an AustCyber AllStars event, held in partnership with The Menzies Foundation and the Cyber Security Cooperative Research Centre. It featured Brian David Johnson in conversation with Michelle Price.

The Allstars event was unique because it allowed me to get an understanding of the ‘international perspective’ from Brian David Johnson – all the way from Arizona, America. The USA is known as a cyber security leader and hearing a personal testimony from someone with experience working in an American technology company expanded my knowledge and personal idea of what a future career could look like internationally for me. For example, he discussed new and future jobs for me to investigate, such as threatcasting.

The idea of threatcasting and envisioning the future is interesting to me as it incentivises the idea of implementing proactive cyber security methods in developmental stages of technology (rather than reactive which requires damage to be done on our cyber security systems for us to protect it in the first place).

It also involves creative elements that can help to bring new ideas to our science fiction writing. Hearing from a futurist who is also a science fiction writer was reassuring because science fiction is the way futurists like Brian David Johnson can warn the public about the risk of cyber insecurity (especially after hearing about how unsafe some devices can be within their fundamental design).

With over 120 exhibitors and 3,600 attendees, the Australian Cyber Conference – coordinated by AISA and the ACSC – was an event of enormous proportions. As a 15-year-old with a passion for cyber security and all things technology, it was an amazing opportunity to be able to attend. 

One of my key moments at the Australian Cyber Conference was the presentation by Kevin Mitnick – ‘How hackers attack and how to fight back’. Hearing about his experiences was terrifying as it demonstrated how unsafe companies can be with the data you trust them with. His talk was also inspiring because of the sheer creativity and problem solving he used for the greater good (and sometimes entertainment for the audience).

He described how social engineering and technological skills can be combined in penetration testing to enhance cyber security. As pen testing is one my preferred careers, seeing demonstrations using current techniques which were realistic was important for me.

The exhibition hall at the conference was overwhelming, as was the sheer number of people advertising and networking. It was encouraging to see the breadth of interest and investment in cyber security in Australia. 

The conference was important not only to foster relationships between different parties – particularly between industry and government – but to show how collaboration is important to secure our cyber security future.

I was also touched by the kindness shown to me by people offering to assist me in my career ambitions. In particular, the staff at AustCyber made me feel really supported and I was thrilled to have had such a great opportunity (I even got my own Cyber Roo!).

I hope to attend the Australian Cyber Conference in 2020, and in the meantime, encourage as many students as I can to explore opportunities in this very exciting sector.

I think we need to make sure that girls from primary school age onwards are given easy access to resources and experiences that make a career in technology appealing. Most girls I know have reservations about science, technology, engineering and mathematics (‘STEM’ subjects) and are unlikely to pursue them as a career. This is the first exposure they get to STEM subjects and the way that maths is currently taught in many schools (a cookie cutter one size fits all style) can give STEM subjects a reputation of being too hard and therefore discourage girls from STEM.

In my case, learning coding in Year 4 ignited a passion that fuelled my pursuit of cyber security, but I was lucky to have this opportunity, whereas most girls did not.

Going forward, I think both industry and government must target this age group and demographic (before subject preferences and career streaming) to get more girls and the next generation of women into the technology sector.