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HomePress ReleaseBringing a female touch to the technology-obsessed world of cybersecurity

Bringing a female touch to the technology-obsessed world of cybersecurity

Johannesburg, 10 August22: The online world is embroiled in a war. Such a statement may seem exaggerated and dramatic, but the figures paint a different picture.

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In 2021, the FBI received 847,376 cybercrime complaints, equalling $7 billion in losses. Yet these are only reported cases; according to the University of Maryland, there is a new attack on the web every 39 seconds. Many succeed – organisations and individuals either don’t report the attacks or aren’t even aware of them until it’s too late.

We are all impacted. If you are nervous about your internet banking details falling into the wrong hands, you feel the long shadow cast by online criminals. If left to their devices, they will erode and destroy our trust in the digital services we rely on. The cybersecurity industry is how we fight back, using the best technologies and techniques to deter the bad guys.

Yet such security requires strong collaboration and context with people and their organisations. Good cybersecurity emerges from a culture and strategy that depends on more than the right software, which is where Gail Le Sar, Global Head of the Project Management Office (PMO) at cyber security company, Performanta, and her project management team – primarily women – make the difference.

“We’re the glue that pulls the teams and solutions together, we’re responsible for joining the dots, and making our customers cyber safe,” says Le Sar. “Our job is to bring customers, vendors and teams together, getting everyone on the same page as to what is required to stay on track.”

Security is about people

It may seem bizarre that such a technical concept as cybersecurity leans on the empathy and planning that good project management provides. But this is a common and often detrimental misunderstanding about digital security.

Effective security has to foremost be about business requirements and people’s involvement. Criminals exploit these areas, targeting individuals and vulnerable organisations. Social engineering, which uses psychological manipulation to con someone into making a compromising mistake, is a very popular and common means that online criminals use to hoodwink us. Ransomware, a horrifying data encryption attack that captures data and blackmails companies for its release, often uses email attacks called ‘phishing’ that mimic legitimate people, leading recipients to offer account login details accidentally.

As the saying goes, loose lips sink ships. Keeping companies afloat against cybercrime attacks needs concerted and coordinated effort – especially if those security interventions are cost-effective and retain their overall value. It’s the job of Le Sar and her PMO teams to make sure cyber security doesn’t degenerate into an ineffectual technology pigeonhole.

“Security vendors like ourselves need to gain a better understanding of the client’s risk appetite, and we need to educate clients that the cost of security solutions far outweighs the cost of major security breaches,” says Le Sar. “Our PMO teams coordinate cyber solutions with clients, sales, engineering and consulting. It’s a very hands-on job requiring a lot of interaction with people and balancing different priorities.”

A PMO works to include different stakeholders while keeping client priorities in sight. Often, companies don’t even know what their security requirements are; many end up panic-buying at great expense – often only after a breach has occurred. In other words, a PMO is crucial to help us contextually tackle cyber threats’ known and unknown unknowns.

Women creating a cyber safe world

While it’s garish to stereotype roles by gender, women do appear to have an advantage in navigating the realities of security projects. Le Sar’s teams consist overwhelmingly of women, a culture that emerged out of the pressures of the job.

“Interestingly enough, my original team that I inherited was an only-women’s team. I brought in a couple of men, but they didn’t really cut the mustard in a team of strong, determined women. The long and short of it is that women are far more detailed and methodical in the delivery of projects. They also have the knack for building strong relationships with many levels of management at the clients, which aids in successful project delivery.”

If this concept is surprising, it betrays our biggest failing around cyber security. Cybercrime remains so threatening because many individuals and organisations limit it to a technology discussion, something the criminals don’t do. They enthusiastically deploy methods more akin to spycraft and interrogation, such as emotional manipulation, to get past our defences.

Le Sar and her PMO teams help create the human touch necessary to create a cyber safe world. The next time you log into your online banking or email account, know that there are more than bits and bytes at work behind the scenes. There are also people, especially women, who help join the dots.

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