Why I'm going into IT security: Veelasha Moonsamy, Australia's only (ISC)2 scholar

Veelasha Moonsamy wasn't sure she wanted to build her career in information security as a student, but by the time she moved from Mauritius to Melbourne to attend Deakin University it had become clear that the field offered growing opportunities and welcome challenges.

Seven years later, Moonsamy is a Deakin student with a Bachelor of Information Technology (IT Security) and an Honours thesis (on malicious software) under her belt. She's well through her PhD thesis – which explores the privacy and security of users' personal information on smartphones – and hopes to finalise it by year's end.

Once she became aware of Deakin's IT Security stream, Moonsamy says she knew it was the right direction to go.

“When I was applying for university I knew I wanted to do an IT degree but didn't know what I wanted to specialise in,” she told CSO Australia.

“Deakin was one of the first universities to offer a major in security, and that meant not a lot of students would have that kind of specialty by the time I finished my Bachelor's degree. That made it more attractive to me.”

Even more attractive was Moonsamy's receipt of an (ISC)2 Foundation Graduate Research Project scholarship (applications for the 2014 scholarships close April 1) – making her one of just eight students around the world to receive the competitive grants of up to $US3000 each.

“There's always a tendency for students to think that you won't get through,” Moonsamy recalls, “but I took it as a challenge and decided to apply and see what happened. It has helped me a lot in my research, in particular for buying equipment and getting my experimental work done. You just have to give it a go – and you never know what the result will be.”

That scholarship, in 2012, was followed with a 2013 (ISC)2 Foundation Women's Scholarship, of which just three were awarded around the world. That put Moonsamy in the company of American Catherine Deleare and Indian Pratibha Dohare, all of whom have been picked out for their potential contributions to the information-security field.

The male-dominated information-security industry continues to work to attract women, with efforts such as a Korean hacking contest and recognition such as the CSO Magazine-Alta Associates sponsored Women of Influence award – recently given to Johnson & Johnson CISO Marene Allison – helping recognise the achievements of women in the industry and spur others to join it.

For Moonsamy, what started as an interest has become a deep love as she has built up her knowledge and credentials in information security. The scholarships also helped fund trips to present papers at industry conferences, building out her CV and paving the way for a career in which she expects she will “delve a bit more into the privacy side” of the security industry.

“This is going to take a major proportion of the industry's attention in the next few years,” she said. “People used to use smartphones but not know what was happening with them. But with Snowden and so on, now they have different information in those applications and need to consider who has access to those.”

Revelations this week suggested the NSA and Britain's Government Communications Headquarters have been exploring ways to extract personally identifiable information from mobile apps including Facebook, Flickr, LinkedIn, Twitter, and even the popular game Angry Birds.

“Even though they might have a billion downloads, you cannot trust any apps,” Moonsamy said. “Privacy is something I'm very much looking forward to doing more research on.”

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