‘Passwords are like underwear’
It was a fascination with computers, from around the age of nine, that led to Jaya Baloo’s love of all things cyber. Her intrigue lay, not only in the productivity of such technology, but also the potential mis-use. Born in India, both her parents worked for the U.N. in the NYC where global problems were regularly discussed at family dinners. It was out of need to solve complex problems that she would want to follow in their footsteps. Today she works as Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) at Avast Software and has been a part of the cybersecurity industry for nearly 20 years. To say she is passionate about her craft is an under-statement. She bubbles with enthusiasm and, on meeting her, it’s impossible not to be drawn into her world….. For anyone who’s not cyber savvy, it’s time to wake up and Jaya is a very good person to start listening to….
What initially inspired you to get involved in cybersecurity?
It all started for me as a kid in my bedroom with my Commodore 64, which I thought was totally awesome. I was so curious about computers, plus hugely inspired by US TV shows about spies and hacking. It spiralled from there.
What do you love most about your job?
It’s so easy to love this line of work, I am continually inspired by all things new. This isn’t to say that I don’t have a great appreciation for everything I have learned in the past. Quite the opposite, I love using this knowledge as a frame of reference. But with the new brings challenges and potential, plus the ability to recognise really good things that are happening.
Are you surprised by the way that technology has advanced in recent years?
For me nothing is advancing quickly enough! I’m impatient and want it all now – yesterday even! I remember my first Nokia phone and thinking, why can’t we have a device that caters for everything, phone, email, business functionality? Then, when Blackberry arrived on the scene, and had business e-mail that wasn’t fast enough either. Right now I’m dying for the next set of technology. I would love to see the advances in Artificial Intelligence that we’re hoping for and the speed of computing to increase. Society only knows how to make a success of a product, when it runs in an ecosystem – we need the sellers, buyers, producers, supply chain and that slows down the introduction of successful innovation.
What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced? And does being a woman in what must be a male dominated world add to this?
Information Security is still a male dominated field. There is also an assumption that if you are a female manager, you do not have a technical background. I realised that if I wanted to make it further, I would have to break protocol and be that person that still needs to understand the technical detail in order to provide a compelling direction of where to go as a team.
In terms of daily challenges – it’s keeping on top of the volume of developments in information security. Trying to unravel and understand the complexity and the urgency of specific issues of this remains a constant challenge.
What would be your best tip for keeping cyber-safe on a daily basis?
There are 5 simple things that everyone can do. First, keep on top of updates for your devices and all your apps. Second, make sure you use a good password manager and have a long unique password. I always say, ‘Passwords are like underwear, the longer the better, change them often and don’t leave them lying around’. Where possible use 2 factor authentication to login and a VPN everywhere. An Antivirus is a necessary precautionary measure as is having online and offline backups. If you do all of that, you’re in a great position to enjoy the fruits of our technology.
One last thing I would like to mention is Caveat Emptor, or, buyer beware. For example, if you buy a 14 euro webcam from China, how secure can you expect this to be? Will it always be updated by the vendor? An unrealistic expectation at that price point. And a daily dilemma when faced with two products marketed at price points. Which one would you choose? Most people are not willing to pay for security and privacy, but expect it to come with every product.
If you want to hear Jaya speak and learn more about her incredible cyber knowledge, make sure you get your tickets for TEDxHaarlem, 4 March 2020.
Interview: Louisa Bijker
Photo: Marjory Haringa