Event Recap: The CyberWomen Conference 2023

By Dee Biles, Cokethorpe School

On the 25th of October, CyberWomen@Warwick hosted the second, now annual, CyberWomen Conference. Completely student led and organised, with collaboration between the ever-expanding branches of the CyberWomen Groups C.I.C., the conference explored the changing face of cyber with talks and workshops that promoted inclusivity and diversity by having a wide range of speakers and topics. The conference highlighted the ways in which bringing together teams of people from all backgrounds can foster a safe environment for creativity and innovation, from sharing ideas to giving attendees the opportunity to network and meet professionals who could speak to their own experiences.

Emotional Intelligence in Cyber Careers

The opening talk, given by keynote speaker Chani Simms, gave an overview of how emotional intelligence should, and can, go in hand in hand with cyber careers, using her own impressive background as an example of how it can be done. She touched on parts of her own work that people could relate to. The desire to be a ‘wonder woman’ who does it all was a comment that got many nods from across the room from both the other speakers and the diverse audience who came to the conference. When in a minority, whether in wider society or within a particular industry such as cyber security, there is a consistent pattern of those who are ambitious to feel it is on them alone to make all the changes to their environment, to be a ‘wonder woman’ who excels at their job and makes everything better for everyone all the time. Simms emphasised how this was not possible to do alone, referencing and showcasing her own companies who pride themselves on being teams.

Unravelling Vulnerability Management

The next lecture was given by Donna Chivers, a product manager at Kaze Consulting, who gave an impressive technical talk about ‘Unravelling Vulnerability Management’ covering the intricacies of cyber resilience while also casually promoting the new Kaze software to help with mitigating risks. Going into this talk with a more or less non-existent understanding of this part of the cyberworld, Chivers made the topic surprisingly accessible through her clarity. With or without an interest in the new software involving a risk detecting ‘AI’, this lecture was highly informative. This was then paired with a workshop just after, delivered by Rohini Paligadu who gave demonstrations of the aforementioned Kaze software with an insight into different approaches to vulnerability management.

ETW Patching and Driver Abuse

With lunch around the corner, the Threat Hunters Rosie and Archa from WithSecure educated the audience about ETW patching and driver abuse, accompanied and aided by some beautiful presentation slides. Clearly both passionate experts, their talk gave the less often glamourised side of hacking – the security on the other side – a much needed glow-up.

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After a successful morning, with ample break time supplemented with croissants and refreshments, lunch came with a never-ending amount of sandwiches which were still being offered by leaving time some four hours later. Though the food was a large attraction, the Opportunity Hub where this was all held was the true gem as attendees were able to talk to the speakers and to people in industry. The CyberWomen Groups C.I.C. teams were always around, friendly, and ready to introduce everyone.

Careers in the Cyber Space

The afternoon kicked off with Sophie Powell and her ‘Introduction to CyberWomen Groups C.I.C.’, explaining the origins, present and future of the inspiring students who started it all. Though short, it was a lovely and informative way to commence the next round of talks which had more of a focus on being in and part of the cyber space.

Yasmine Rasselkaf then detailed the wide range of options there are in the cyber space for job opportunities that can suit a diverse range of approaches and interests. From Palo Alto Networks, the Cybersecurity Systems Engineer conveyed the absolute joy she found in her job and offered advice within her talk and during the Q and A portion to those looking to navigate the cybersecurity landscape.

AI and Impersonation Fraud

With the two workshops running about the Kaze software and deepfakes, conference-goers were given the chance to attend whichever they had not yet seen (both were offered in the morning after the Kaze talk). ‘Elvis may not have left the building’ was an interesting exploration of how ‘AI’ and impersonation fraud have combined and evolved in recent years. From celebrities golfing to Henry VIII being catfished and the odd middle ground in between, this talk touched on several aspects of issues around the impact of ‘AI’ on trust relations. Janette Bonar Law from the Coventry Building Society opened this talk with a quick history of deepfakes that was then followed by Matthew Treadwell of The Cybarian LTD who talked about one my personal favourite studies, ‘Birds aren’t real’ by Peter McIndoe, using it as an example of how easily manipulated trust relations are. The talk ended with an Elvis impression worthy of a chapel in Vegas.

Next up was a panel with Illyana Mullins, founder of WiTCH, Venessa Eyles who is in charge of the Cyber Resilience Centre for the West Midlands and Vickie Hickinbottom from CGI. They discussed the current hot topic – AI. Looking at different areas that AI could and will affect, they traversed issues around employment and the lack of diversity in the data bases that form the groundwork of the chatbots that are now highly prevalent. This panel was engaging with the three speakers sharing a clear respect for one another that enabled an in-depth discussion around the subject.

Neurodiversity and Gender in Cyber Careers

The final talk of the day, apparently a last-minute fill in despite how polished it seemed, was about neurodiversity within the cyber space community given by Illyana Mullins. She shared her personal experience of diagnosis of ADHD and autism and how it impacted her life and career. Enlightening, the talk resonated with the audience and debunked myths surrounding being neurodivergent. She also explored how gender can play into the perception of neurodivergence, how embedded inequalities can impact someone on an individual level.

The conference then ended on thank yous from the CyberWomen Groups C.I.C., with cards for each speaker. The conference was intimate and informative, and I fully recommend attending the next one. Having grown up as a girl interested in STEM, I participated in competitions with predominantly male competitors and judges, as well as talks and workshops that were almost exclusively run by older males. I was quite emotional to see a female heavy conference, run and organised by young women in industry with a balanced audience. It was truly inspiring and I am so glad there are organisations like this that exist who are organising events like this.

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