Like many fields in STEM, cybersecurity has traditionally been a bit of a boys’ club. Back in 2013, it was reported that women made up 11 per cent of the global cybersecurity workforce.* Fortunately, there appears to be signs of change, with the figure expected to rise beyond 20 per cent by the end of 2019.**
Maha Afaneh is currently completing the final year of her Master of Cybersecurity (Computer Science) and is a passionate advocate for more women in the field. She’s just been nominated for the Australian Information Security Association’s Cyber Security Tertiary Student of the Year Award and hopes it will inspire others.
‘If girls see a woman coming up and achieving an award – even just being nominated – it will show they can study cybersecurity too.’Maha Afaneh
It was while studying her criminology degree that Maha discovered her love of cybersecurity.
‘I’ve always had an interest in technical areas, so I didn’t let having a non-technical degree stop me.’
Once she’d started at La Trobe, she didn’t waste any time in getting involved in student life, becoming a student representative after just one semester.
‘I’m basically the voice of the students. If they have any concerns or don’t know who to reach out to, I’m there to step in and provide advice.’
Looking to mentor the next generation of cybersecurity professionals, she began tutoring undergrads.
‘The fact I’ve done an internship and I’m a bit older means I bring some experience and knowledge.’
At La Trobe, Maha has found a strong mentor in Jill Slay, the La Trobe Optus Chair of Cyber Security.
‘She’s really pushed me to network and apply for graduate programs. She’s introduced me to so many people.’
‘I’ve already got an exciting job offer for next year through Deloitte’s graduate program. One of the partners, Puneet Kukreja, is an adjunct professor at La Trobe. From the get-go, he was encouraging and pushing for more women in cyber.’
Maha says while cybersecurity is still male-dominated, there are now more women being drawn to the field.
‘It’s great, because many women come from different backgrounds and have switched over from different careers. They bring a different perspective and a different mindset which will allow cybersecurity to flourish.’
Achieving gender balance begins with education, and Maha is starting at home.
‘I’ve got four younger sisters and I tell them, “It doesn’t have to be cybersecurity, it can be any STEM-related degree. And don’t be intimidated, because men want more women in the industry, but there’s not enough going through university.”’
Back at uni, she’s also president of two cybersecurity clubs: the La Trobe Cybersecurity Society, focused on the technical side of cyber and the ISACA Student Group, focused on the governance, risk and compliance side of cyber.
‘Our ISACA launch had the CISO of Microsoft in attendance, who’s also a Professor of Practice at La Trobe. We talked about career paths and what additional certifications can help students be at the forefront of cybersecurity.’
From here, Maha wants to contribute to cybersecurity on a larger scale.
‘My plan for next year is to do some exciting things at Deloitte. In the future, I really want to be in a position that would allow me to make an impact on a national scale – which will ultimately encourage even more girls to come through.’
At La Trobe, we’ve introduced a range of scholarships – including our new Women in Cybersecurity Scholarship – so you can study a cybersecurity degree and join the next generation of cyber professionals. Learn more about our cybersecurity degrees and scholarships.
*Agents of Change: Women in the Information Security Profession, Frost and Sullivan, 2013
**Cybersecurity Ventures, 2018