Our new venture, Inspiring Journeys in Cybersecurity, is an attempt to showcase our member's journeys in the domain. We will continue to bring more inspiring journeys in the future.
Harini loves everything about cybersecurity and music. Currently a Master’s student in Electrical and Computer Engineering, Carnegie Mellon University, where she is taking some exciting courses in the cybersecurity field (and admiring Pittsburgh’s beauty.) Otherwise, she can be found karaoking solo to pop and classical songs in her room.
Tell us about your journey in Cybersecurity, your ups and downs, and your accomplishments.
I was very inspired by people who were in charge of the security side of things, taking responsibility for the safety and security of systems. Since my undergraduate days, I started looking for opportunities. Initially, I worked with a professor on campus and later I secured an internship with a cybersecurity firm. I learned how to build applications and incorporate cryptographic algorithms into them. Following that, I joined a research group at the National University of Singapore as a Research Intern where we worked together on an intriguing project on designing a side-channel attack on physical locks (and I got to learn lock-picking, and use a robot for our experiments!). We published this work at two international conferences and it managed to pique the interest of many security professionals and technology magazines.
After my undergrad, I worked at CloudSEK, leading the R&D in Android security SAST tooling and later at Postman, building automation to enable API security features in the Postman app. I’m currently a grad student at CMU in cybersecurity.
What drove you to Cybersecurity?
I have always loved investigating and digging into things, and that aspect of cybersecurity is what attracted me as a high school student. People on the security side of things, who were in charge of the responsibility for the safety and security of systems, always intrigued me.
One thing you wish to change about the Cybersecurity domain?
I wish there were more people in cybersecurity. As an undergrad, I was among the few students looking forward to pursuing a career in this field. I wish more people from non-traditional backgrounds can contribute to the cybersecurity industry. The BBWIC and WiCyS organizations are doing some great work on this front, providing adequate resources and most importantly, tons of support to those wanting to get a kick start into the field.
Do you think communities play a role in uplifting someone in this domain or does one need to play solo?
I was playing solo during the initial years of my journey.
It was challenging to step into the domain, not having anyone to guide you. Being part of a community now, I realize the incredible value it adds to one’s journey. One has a huge support system to reach out to, and in turn, can lend a hand to anyone else who would benefit from it. Communities play a crucial role in shaping one’s identity and growing together with a group of people who have common interests.
Have you done anything in the Cybersecurity domain that has enriched the diversity and inclusion scenario? If yes, mention it briefly.
As a college student, I started a club called Education Information Technology (EdIT) as a part of the Computer Science society. I organized two sessions a week for a year on different topics, mainly targeting junior students who were interested in exploring various areas in Computer Science.
Apart from that, I have also mentored (and continue to do so) female students interested in cybersecurity and other areas.
One challenge, according to you, that women face in the cybersecurity domain. How did you overcome it?
From my personal experience, I can say that entry into the field is often a bigger barrier than the rest. The general bias towards women in tech and their capabilities only makes it harder. Despite wanting to work in the cybersecurity industry, and finding entry-level positions in the domain extremely challenging, I did not want to compromise and end up picking an irrelevant role.
To overcome this, my previous experience with security internships and publications came in handy. With my skills, from application development to security research, I was able to establish myself where I could contribute rapidly to the security teams in companies.
I was willing to learn new technologies and my mentors played an important role in encouraging me to believe in my abilities and navigate into the corporate space.
How has your experience been with the Breaking Barriers Women In Cybersecurity Foundation?
BBWIC has been the biggest support system that I have ever had in my journey. I joined this community to interact with more people in cybersecurity. What I certainly didn’t expect is the amount of support they give, making me realize my potential to do more and always motivating me to keep going forward. I am grateful to be in a position on the board where I can do my bit to give back to this amazing group of women!
What I love about our community is how every member truly looks out for the other as their cheerleaders and well-wishers.
This community has truly been a rare and precious find for me :)
Interviewed and edited by Dr. Sana Fatima
(Sana is an advisory board member of the BBWIC Foundation.
A dental surgeon, a writer, and a full-time editor in a publishing house, Sana is a cybersecurity enthusiast herself.