IBM Opens the World of Cybersecurity to Girls
Cybersecurity. The amount of crime being committed in this field is rapidly rising. It is also suffering from a shortage of 1.5 million people to help stop this crime from occurring. What is even more shocking is the lack of women working in this field. Did you know only 10% of those involved in cybercrime security are women? October was Cybersecurity Awareness Month, and IBM hosted a Cyber Day for Girls event in various cities to bring this issue to light. In Ottawa, IBM invited Grade 8 girls from St. Patrick’s Intermediate School to inspire them to want to become a part of the industry of cybersecurity.
IBM shared a video they produced entitled Hacked showing the importance of this industry as the cost occurring in this type of crime is about $445 billion.
Why young women? Research has found that 82% of young people today were not aware of the cybersecurity industry in high school. IBM wants to help younger students to keep this option open to them so they can pursue this career path.
At the event, Heather Ricciuto, the global leader of IBM’s Security’s academic initiative led the students in a mix of exercises, questions and lessons. They learned what cybersecurity is, why it is important, and what they could do to begin to take steps to enter this field. The ladies from St. Patrick’s Intermediate School were excited to be learning about this industry. They were quick to answer the questions asked of them, shared their online experiences with the group, and asked insightful questions to Heather and other female IBM team members about their roles within the company.
To put their new-found knowledge to the test, Heather presented the girls with a game a colleague created to bring more awareness to cybersecurity. Each table of girls had to travel around the game board by answer questions about cybersecurity in order gain points to finish the game.
They also had to create what they thought was a strong password. If they picked up from the deck instructing them to use test the strength of their password, they would have to then enter it into the password tester on Heather’s laptop. It let the know the strength of their password. Based on their password’s strength, they would get an assigned amount of points. This also made them think about the thought and effort they should be putting into the passwords they create for themselves when they are online.
Heather also spoke about the importance of a background in S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) can be in their futures and how is can be applied to various other fields such as fashion. She shared with the students IBM’s video of Watson and their joint project with Marchesa to design and create a designer gown. Whether technology or fashion is your thing, the execution and the final result was pretty amazing!
During a break, I had the chance to sit down with Heather Ricciuto to get her thoughts about cubersecurity, the event, and her career with IBM.
OMC: What sort of skills are needed to enter the world of Cybersecurity?
HR: There are deep technical skills required for certain careers, for example, software development, or a security researcher. Technology is constantly evolving. A skill that you may acquire today may become obsolete in 5 years and you may need a new technical skill. At IBM, we look for well-rounded people. People with leadership skills, those who are engaged in their community, maybe people who balance having a part-time job while studying. People who can show they have a passion for learning. It is more about the whole package the person is able to demonstrate.
OMC: Do you see Cybersecurity Awareness Month becoming more of a priority for school boards to focus on or to want to implement into their curriculum?
HR: I do not know, but do I wish for that? Yes, absolutely, because security is important to every individual, every organization, every not-for-profit, every school. Everybody is at risk and should have a basic understanding of the importance of security as the girls are learning here today. I feel that it should also be taught to children at all ages, from grade school to university, and beyond.
OMC: How has working in the Cybersecurity industry impacted your life?
HR: This opportunity has given me the opportunity to learn new things. I did not start out cybersecurity. This unit did not exist until a few years ago. It has become an area of importance. At IBM, we are fortunate to be able to learn new things and change roles within the company, move into new areas of the business. For me, moving into security has afforded me the opportunity to work with students. I voiced my desire to give back to the community has allowed me to teach others, which is something I love doing. Now I am leading this program, and it is so much fun.
Overall, the Cyber Day for Girls event was an eye-opener for the ladies that attended, and for me as well! We found out about the Cybersecurity , why it is important, and how they can pursue this field starting in high school. We also realized that we should be more vigilant than we currently are about how we conduct ourselves online. With this information, the door has certainly been opened to these ladies to a field they may have never imagined they could be a part of before!