11 Sep Award-Winning Cyber Geek Girl’s Nonlinear Journey Into Security
Fortune favors the bold
– Di Freeze, Managing Editor
Northport, N.Y. – Sep. 11, 2020
Cybersecurity consultant Lisa Ventura proudly wears the nickname “Cyber Geek Girl.”
“A friend of mine called me that a few years ago because of my huge interest in gadgets and technology,” she said. “It just kind of stuck, and I decided to use it as part of my personal brand.”
That includes her Cyber Geek Girl blog, which give readers “a window” into her life.
“My aim with the blog is to pass on interesting information, reviews, hints and tips that I’ve learned over the years,” she said. “It covers many aspects of my life that I’m passionate about, and it has grown and developed into a strong and informative resource, especially in business, entrepreneurship, cybersecurity and technology.”
One thing she’s passionate about is seeing more women in cybersecurity. She recently compiled The Rise of the Cyber Women, which features women from all walks of life and from around the world. Ventura came up with the idea for the book when she realized that there were other women in the industry like her who had a “nonlinear journey” into it, or who didn’t start out in cybersecurity or tech.
“One thing that was clear to me was their determination to never give up, no matter what was thrown at them,” she said of the contributors to the book. (Vol. 1 was released in July and Vol. 2 will be released on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2021.)
Ventura, who grew up in Worcester, England, and continues to live there, spent many years in the entertainment industry, including working with Chris Tarrant, the host of UK’s “Who Wants to be a Millionaire,” at his management company. During her time there, she also worked with other high-profile TV and radio presenters such as John Kettley, Richard Allinson and Ed Doolan.
At the same time, she was active with the organization of festivals in her local community, founded a successful literary festival, and was involved in the start of a music festival. Her interest in cybersecurity began with her first husband, who was an ethical hacker.
“I was fascinated with his work,” she said. “He couldn’t tell me a lot about it as he undertook a lot of government-related work in that area.”
Her interest in computers, technology and gadgets extended to “hacking, the psychology of hacking, and what motivates hackers to do what they do.” In 2009, when she was at a crossroads career wise, that passion led her to join her husband’s cybersecurity software development company to help him with his workload.
“I was actively involved in all areas of the business,” she said. “When we separated in 2012, I was very upset about coming away from the business.”
She knew she wanted to stay in the cybersecurity industry, and she found a way to do that. She became the PR and marketing manager for BT. During her time with the company, she also worked on its Assure Cyber product. After that, she became the content marketing and editorial director for Corinium Global Intelligence.
In 2014, Ventura struck out on her own as a cybersecurity awareness and content marketing consultant. She works mainly with professional services organizations to help train their staff to be more cybersecurity aware. She does this through a program of phishing email simulations, cyber escape room training sessions, and carefully crafted and targeted internal communications designed to help staff think about their cybersecurity posture and cyber hygiene.
Ventura formed the UK Cyber Security Association (UKCSA) in 2018.
“Although there are organizations for IT, IT security and computing in general in the UK, I couldn’t find one that I could join that seemed to be dedicated solely to cybersecurity,” she said.
The organization raises awareness of the growing cyber threat across the UK and provides best practice, networking opportunities and the chance for members to collaborate to hopefully solve problems and issues that arise, especially when it comes to data breaches and how to avoid them. UKCSA also works actively to raise awareness of the cyber skills gap and neurodiversity in cybersecurity.
“Studies have shown that those who are neurodiverse are well-suited to careers in cybersecurity,” Ventura said. “We want to encourage as many neurodiverse individuals to enter the industry as possible. I myself am neurodiverse; I was diagnosed as autistic in June 2018 and it explained so much about why I am the way I am.”
Ventura created a separate division for women in cybersecurity to help those in the industry to network and meet other like-minded women.
“I also wanted to create a safe space where they could talk to each other without the fear of being judged or of receiving abusive comments,” she said. “Its purpose is to encourage women to enter cybersecurity and to support them at every stage of their career.”
Ventura is also a member of the advisory board for the newly formed West Midlands Cyber Resilience Centre, which is police led and aims to help educate small businesses and SMEs against the growing cyber threat. The center is one of 5 in the UK, with more to come.
Ventura admits that much of what she’s achieved professionally might not have happened if one thing in her life had been different. She tried for years to be a mother and remarried in April 2013, to her husband, Russell. She was ecstatic when she became pregnant. However, when she was 33 weeks along, her son was stillborn, on Nov. 29, 2013.
“I named him after my father and my father’s brother, Francesco ‘Frankie’ Enrico Ventura,” she said. “My husband and I found out that had our son been born alive, he would have been severely mentally and physically disabled due to a rare genetic abnormality, as he had 2 identical copies of chromosome 15, so I think Mother Nature had other plans for my son.”
Ventura describes that time as the lowest point in her life. She eventually began a blog, Frankie’s Legacy, to help others who have been through stillbirth, early pregnancy loss, or who have lost a baby due to chromosomal disorders before birth.
“I don’t write as much as I used to for it these days, but it is a safe space for me to write about my son and my life as an ‘empty armed mother’ that is away from my work in cybersecurity,” she said.
She said that much of what she does today fills time that she would have devoted towards being a mother.
“Cybersecurity has given me a much-needed outlet to fulfill my potential and be the best I can be,” she said.
Ventura has received many awards for her involvement in cybersecurity and in other areas. A few are especially important to her. In June 2019, she won SC Awards Europe’s “Outstanding Contribution to Cyber Security” award for her work in the industry.
“I couldn’t be at the awards ceremony,” she said. “This award means so much to me, as I know that SC Magazine doesn’t choose their winners lightly.”
She was also honored to win Cyber Security UK’s “Personality of the Year” award last year and was named to Women in Tech’s “Tech 100 Women.” She recently found out that she is one of 126 finalists in the 2020 National Diversity Awards, out of over 64,000 nominations. She is one of 8 shortlisted as finalists in the “Positive Role Model/Gender” category.
When Ventura isn’t doing something related to cybersecurity, you might find her walking her dog, watching a good movie or TV show, or listening to Queen songs.
She has a German Shepherd/Husky cross (Shepsky) named Poppy who is nearly 7 years old.
“She’s my world,” she said. “We have lots of long walks together every day, which keeps me fit, and she is my therapy dog. Where I have been let down, abused, hurt and betrayed by humans, she gives me nothing but unconditional love.”
Ventura is a huge film buff and loves TV shows, especially Sci-Fi. She has a few favorites involving hackers and cybersecurity, including Mr. Robot, Hackers, Tron, War Games and The Matrix.
“War Games is very cheesy, and you have to take everything with a pinch of salt, but it is good escapism,” she said. “Then, the thought of AI enslaving humankind so we are all hooked up to machines and the life we are living is not ‘real’ and part of the Matrix is a very scary thought.”
She does wish films and TV shows would steer clear of the stereotype of the “male hacker in a hoodie huddled over his computer.”
“I think this could be very off-putting to some women looking to enter the cybersecurity industry,” she said. “More needs to be done to overcome these hacker stereotypes.”
Ventura is also a big fan of Queen and Freddie Mercury.
“I grew up with the band from the moment I was born,” she said.
When she saw the film Bohemian Rhapsody in October 2018, one line completely resonated with her: “Fortune favors the bold.”
“I’ve been living with that in mind ever since,” she said. “I think that has been instrumental in my success in cybersecurity. I’ve asked for things and advanced my career in ways I never thought possible because ‘fortune favors the bold.’ If I ask for something, what is the worst that can happen: The answer is no. That’s fine — I will try, try and try again.”
If you’re interested in other ways the film influenced Ventura, read her article, 5 Life Lessons From the Queen Biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
– Di Freeze is Managing Editor at Cybersecurity Ventures.