Organised by Eskenzi PR in media partnership with the IT Security Guru, the Most Inspiring Women in Cyber Awards aim to shed light on the remarkable women in our industry. The following is a feature on one of 2022’s Top 20 women selected by an esteemed panel of judges. Presented in a Q&A format, the nominee’s answers are written in their own words with minor edits made by the editor for readability and where relevant, supplemented with additional commentary by their nominator.
This year, the awards are sponsored by Beazley, BT, KPMG and KnowBe4.
Kristina Balaam, Staff Threat Intelligence Researcher, Lookout
What does your job role entail?
My role involves tracking and investigating campaigns tied to Advanced Persistent Threat groups. Usually, this includes reverse engineering mobile malware to understand how it works and what data it attempts to collect or exploit, investigating infrastructure tied to the campaigns we are tracking, and many times, it also involves understanding the geopolitical context of the (often state sponsored) threats our team investigates.
How did you get into the cybersecurity industry?
I transitioned from a general software engineering role after I was exposed to the industry and the roles that existed through professional development courses.
What is one of the biggest challenges you have faced as a woman in the tech/cyber industry and how did you overcome it?
Imposter syndrome following sexist comments I’ve received has been a significant challenge at times. I’ve been very lucky to have wonderful mentors who have become close friends, and their support and encouragement has helped drown out the negative comments when I find myself a bit too affected by them. I’ve also tried to keep a little “diary” of work I’m proud of and when negative comments or imposter syndrome make me question my worth in this industry I turn to those experiences to encourage myself to persevere.
What are your top three greatest accomplishments you have achieved during your career so far?
- Speaking at CyberWarCon this year was an absolute dream come true, and I’m especially proud to have been able to speak about the negative impact of surveillance campaigns on minority groups, dissidents and activists.
- Much of my research on the Threat Intelligence team isn’t publicly available, so unfortunately all I can say for this is that I’m very proud of the research I’ve contributed to our team and the ways in which we’ve helped protect certain vulnerable populations.
- I’ve had several young women tell me that they’ve become interested in threat intelligence and the work our team does after hearing me speak at conferences. I entered the tech industry (and my computer science programme) after seeing Jade Raymond, the former president of Ubisoft Toronto, speak about her work as a software engineer. Knowing that I’ve been able to motivate others toward work I’m so passionate about has been incredibly fulfilling!
What are you doing to support other women, and/or to increase diversity, in the tech/cyber industry?
Offering mentorship and advice to women about transitioning to this industry and during their interview processes and resume writing.
What is one piece of advice you would give to girls/women looking to enter the cybersecurity industry?
Believe in your worth and what you can contribute to this industry — don’t withhold an application to a new role because you may only exactly fit 6/10 of the listed criteria. Apply! Your unique perspective is needed and many organisations are happy to help develop any technical skills that may be lacking right now.