University of Queensland is hacking through perceptions that cybersecurity is a ‘man’s game’

Australia’s cybersecurity experts are aiming to tackle an issue plaguing the industry worldwide — the perception that what they do is a “boy thing”.

Queensland University of Technology computer science graduate Georgia Brady is painfully aware of the gender imbalance.

“The cybersecurity industry is still very much a man’s game because that’s the way it’s been, but programs like this are helping change that,” she said.

The 21-year-old from Toowoomba is one of five students awarded a HP Women in Cyber Security scholarship at the University of Queensland (UQ).

According to the Federal Department of Home Affairs, Australia reflects a global trend of only about 10 per cent female participation in the workforce tasked with protecting digital integrity.

The UQ scholarship program, launched earlier this year, aims to open the door to stronger female representation in a crucial industry.

Senior UQ cybersecurity researcher Ryan Ko said it was important the industry moved with the times to keep pace with growing global threats.

“As cyber attackers evolve, so too must the industry, and UQ is focused on developing highly skilled professionals who can meet the security challenges of the future,” Professor Ko said.

“The industry needs diversity of thought, gender and culture because the threats are coming from criminals of different backgrounds and different mindsets.”

Demand for cybersecurity professionals is expected to increase after a year in which many Australians have come to rely heavily on technology because of coronavirus restrictions.

The growth in work from home and remote learning has greatly expanded the number of people dependent on computers and other online devices.

The federally funded industry body AustCyber estimates an extra 17,000 Australian cybersecurity professionals will be required by 2026.

Ms Brady said it would likely take “a lot of time” to get more women into cybersecurity.

“I love the industry and if I’m one of the people changing it in terms of more women becoming involved, I’m happy to do so,” she said.

The UQ program brings in students who have completed undergraduate degrees in technology, business, mathematics, social science and law.

Professor Ko previously worked for three years as a lead computer scientist at HP, which is providing professional mentors for the UQ scholarship recipients.

‘Get girls engaged from kindergarten’

HP national enterprise manager for education and government Rachael Williams said women brought unique strengths to cybersecurity.

“There are unique thought processes and elements that females bring to the table, with a richness of thinking and problem solving,” she said.

“Education is where it all starts and we have to get girls engaged from kindergarten.

“We need to change that conversation about it being only a boy thing.

“It’s for everyone to get passionate about so we are looking to create platforms that encourage girls into cybersecurity.”

Ms Brady initially began studying a fine arts degree at QUT before changing direction after six months “because there wasn’t enough maths in it”.

“Working in cybersecurity was always my long-term goal, anyway,” she said.

“This year they’ve found vulnerabilities

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US charges six Russian intelligence officers with hacking Ukraine, 2018 Olympics, and Skripal investigation

The Justice Department has charged six Russian intelligence officers with involvement in an extensive hacking campaign, including the notorious Petya ransomware attacks that targeted Ukraine in 2015. According to the indictment, the efforts also targeted the country of Georgia, the French elections, the 2018 winter Olympics, and investigations into the poisoning of former Russian military officer Sergei Skripal.

Many of the specific incidents in the indictment have been previously reported, but no law enforcement agency has publicly charged Russia’s GRU with orchestrating the attacks. Russia’s primary military intelligence agency, the GRU has previously been associated with a wide range of cyberattacks dubbed “Fancy Bear” by private-sector researchers. In this case, prosecutors even pin the operation down to a specific GRU building located at 22 Kirova Street in Moscow, which the indictment refers to as “the Tower.”

The indictment follows previous prosecutions concerning GRU campaigns against the 2014 Olympics or the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 campaign. One of the six defendants, Anatoliy Kovalev, was also named in the DNC indictments. But Monday’s indictment reaches further, alleging an international campaign of cyberattacks and political influence campaigns to further Russian national interests.

The most devastating of the attacks came against Ukrainian power grids in 2015. The first attack compromised internal networks at all three of the country’s major energy distribution companies, rendering computers inoperable and leaving more than 200,000 people without power in the dead of winter. The following year, a subsequent attack was launched against the country’s Ministry of Finance and State Treasury Service.

As with previous indictments against foreign hackers, Russia is unlikely to extradite the defendants, and it is unlikely that they will ever stand trial. Nonetheless, the new prosecution is a significant milestone in the ongoing efforts to hold the GRU accountable for its digital attacks.

The indictment is the result of more than two years of investigation by the FBI, a point that was emphasized by agents who worked on the case. “The exceptional talent and dedication of our teams in Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Oklahoma City who spent years tracking these members of the GRU is unmatched,” said Michael Christman, FBI special agent in charge of the Pittsburgh field office, in a statement. “These criminals underestimated the power of shared intelligence, resources and expertise through law enforcement, private sector and international partnerships.”

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