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Meet one of our superstar ethical hacker, Allena Matheson-Dear, Scottish Business Resilience Centre, who is not only an amazing team player, but has worked extensively with us on various impactful projects such as Exercise in a Box, Third Sector Cyber Resilience and more.

Read on to find out about Allena’s journey as a student and the motivation behind her joining Abertay University. She reflects on how she balances uni assignments and work life, alongside highlighting the importance of better cyber exercising practices for your organisation, that she learned in depth about whilst working with SBRC.

Tell us a bit about your motivation to study and work in the field of Ethical Hacking?

I’ve always had an interest in computers, how they work and what’s their purpose. As I was growing up, I became more interested in making them not work, and experiment with things they shouldn’t do. When my brother went to Abertay University to study Computing, he introduced me to the course on Ethical Hacking. It amazed me that you could study a whole course on that subject! Since then I knew this is wanted to pursue at Abertay and I based my studies on hacking and cyber security. I attended the CyberFirst summer school and that’s when I began to realise the extreme imbalance of women’s representation in computing, and especially in the field of cyber security. This made me even more determined to pursue my career in Ethical Hacking, not without its challenges but I became inspired. During this time, cyber security became more prevalent in the news and I started understanding how it affected everyone around the world, I realised I wanted to be a part of that ecosystem.

How do you balance work and study?

I’ve been working with SBRC for over a year now as a part-time Ethical Hacker, and a few months ago I was given the opportunity to work on the third sector cyber resilience project as in the capacity of Third Sector Project Administrator. As a team, we work with ample flexibility and have the freedom to work on weekends and the like if we have uni work on weekdays. I’m not entirely sure how I manage to balance my studies, work and my social life but it does all fit in well and I wouldn’t give up any aspect of it. I’m a fairly organised person and use my Google calendar religiously, otherwise, I’m not sure how I’d keep track of it all!

What are your aspirations in the field of cyber security?

I’m hoping to pursue my professional career in the field of cyber security, specialising in consulting, red teaming or incident response. Over the next year, I want to gain more experience in these areas before I decide on exactly which path I would take. In terms of my studies, I’m in my third year at Abertay University and currently working on a mini-project on Stalkerware that I hope to develop further into my honours project next year.  Whether it’s intentional spyware or what is called ‘dual-use’ apps like Life360, and the influence it could have on an abusive relationship. Gender-basedviolence is a subject I feel very strongly about and there isn’t sufficient research around it, so I’m hoping my work could possibly help someone recognise what is tech abuse that themselves or a family member is likely experiencing.

Can you tell us about your work with SBRC? 

Being an Ethical Hacker at SBRC involves learning on the field, the best kind of learning and experience you can ever get! We run several educational events, in the form of webinars, cyber exercising events and various cyber resilience workshops. The job is so varied and diverse with different tasks and interesting projects always coming up my way. My favourite project so far was when my colleagues, Sophie, Rory and I took part in creating a children’s comic discussing cyber safety. As I mentioned earlier, I have also recently worked on leading the Third Sector project, hosting multiple informative webinars on how these organisations can increase their cyber resilience, and also leading 1-2-1 consultations after the webinar.

Third Sector organisations have increasingly become more of a target to cybercriminals due to poor cyber security defences and lack of awareness around current threats so we decided to run events specifically targeted to them. With third sector organisations often handling sensitive data, helping them secure that data from a potential breach is vital.  In collaboration with the Scottish Government, and the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO), we delivered free and non-technical online webinars on topics including ‘Introduction to Cyber Learning’ and ‘Introduction to Cyber Incident Management’ to raise awareness around third sector organisations on the basics of cyber security and how to handle a potential cyber attack.  

I’ve also learned a lot from my involvement with the Exercise in a Box workshops. As part of the Ethical Hacking team, I sit with members of an organisation and run through a mock cyber attack scenario, where they can then practice their response in a safe environment and identify if there are any gaps in their cyber security management framework that could be improved. It’s been a great learning experience and very immersive, educational time for me. I would definitely encourage every business and organisation to attend one of these sessions and safeguard their data online and offline; they are free and the duration is only 90-minutes out of your day. The feedback we have received so far from the workshops has been overwhelmingly positive and we are hoping to make a bigger impact, particularly in the field of health and social care sector within the third sector this year through Exercise in a Box workshops.

Read more in detail about how Exercise in a Box can prepare your organisation to be more cyber secure – here.

Do you have a message for aspiring students looking to pursue a career for themselves in cyber security? 

My message would be to go for it! There are so many great resources out there to get you started like TryHackMe. If you’re considering a university for Ethical Hacking, Abertay Uni in Dundee, is a great choice with incredible lecturers. If anyone is in high school looking to get into the field of cyber, the CyberFirst courses are great and I am still friends with many from the week-long courses I took part in. They even have women-only courses allowing women in cyber to connect and empower each other to break the bias.

Blogs written for SBRC and Third Force News by Allena –

Prepare Your Charity Against Cyber Breaches