This week we are talking to Shirin Mortaz Hejri to discover how she made it as a cyber professional in her native country of Iran. Shirin is highly qualified and started her career in a SOC, moving up to management and consulting.
How did you get into cyber and why did you choose to specialise in SOC analysis?
As many kids of my generation I was fascinated by the idea of a hacker, and of course I always dreamt of being one. After graduation from university, I started working in the traditional network security field. This provided the foundation to work as a SOC Analyst. I chose this role because the SOC environment is very dynamic, it requires constant learning and adaptability. This is something that keeps me engaged. I can say today that cyber security has had a great impact in my life and provided me with many opportunities for development and progression.
What did you think was going to be challenging about cyber as a career, and what turned out to be the actual challenges?
Before entering the industry I thought that the technical part of cyber security was going to be the biggest challenge for me. Indeed, many think that maintaining the technical knowledge is the most challenging aspect. Having acquired the knowledge and experience I now have, I can say that was probably the easy part. The hardest part of working and progressing in this industry is critical thinking, attention to detail and keeping up with the latest developments. The cyber security challenge for businesses is often not technical, but rather human. Most cyber attacks these days are linked to human error and phishing attacks are a good example.
What has been the most rewarding about being a cyber-professional?
Cyber security is a key component in our society as we rely more and more on digital technologies. If you look at the responsibility of cyber today it goes far beyond technology and it reaches all corners. For example, cyber security is just as crucial in a business as it is in the health care sector, because it can impact peoples lives. Due to the huge impact – people and industries rely on the cyber professional for their expertise and knowledge. I feel this gives me the power and motivation that i need to succeed in my job.
What could be improved in the industry?
I think all industries should have security and awareness training for their staff, simple concepts that employees should know and implement, in order to mitigate basic security problems.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I spend around a third of my day researching and learning on the job. The rest revolves around managing a team, responding to incidents and explaining complex issues to stakeholders and colleagues.
What certifications did you study?
Like many professionals that started in the SOC fields I studied various critical SANS courses. SANS is the top in the industry for technical training and their courses are taught by expert professionals with years of experience in their specialities. My certificates include:
- SEC 504: Hacker Tools, Techniques, Exploits, and Incident Handling
- SEC 503: Intrusion Detection In-Depth
- SEC511: Continuous Monitoring and Security Operations
- SEC555: SIEM with Tactical Analytics
- FOR500: Windows Forensic Analysis
- FOR508: Advanced Incident Response, Threat Hunting, and Digital Forensics
- FOR572A: Lethal Network Forensics
What advice would you give to people who want to get into cyber or follow your career path?
If you want to get into the cyber security field – you should be passionate about studying and learning new things every day. This industry is constantly changing and requires a professional that can adapt quickly and learns to be on top of his game.
What is it like to be a woman working in your industry and what challenges have you faced?
That is a great question, entering this field is hard for women. Indeed, most Tier 1 companies lean towards hiring men due to the 24/7 shifts, however when you make it through that part you can easily progress into Tier 2.
At the beginning of my career journey in this industry, many told me that I would never be hired. It did not help that most great job specs made it clear that they preferred a man and so I faced challenges on many levels. I must have applied to over 65 security analyst roles and it took me around 4 months and 45 interviews to land a job. In the end it paid off and my first job was at the biggest PSP company in Incident Response.
My advice to other women would be to not feel discouraged and to push through, it is worth it. Work hard, study, keep up with developments in your field and network – these are in my opinion the keys to success.
Top 5 books every cyber professional should read?
The top 5 books that have had the biggest impact on me and have widened my horizons are:
- Kevin Mitnick: The Art of Deception / The Art of Invisibility / Ghost In The Wires
- Mary Aiken: The Cyber Effect
- Dawn M. Cappelli, Andrew P. Moore: The CERT Guide to Insider Threat
What are some useful tools or resources you use to improve in and keep up to date with cyber?
Personally I learned so much from CTFs, also known as Capture the Flag competitions for security hackers. I would suggest attending as many competitions as you can as well as downloading all the related materials. As a result you will be able to network, learn and improve your skills.
Furthermore you can download SANS virtual machines and explore the tools available. Likewise you can install Kali Linux and work with the Kali tools.
Anything else you would like to add?
It is worth noting that most of the people working in cyber security are open to new connections and want to share their knowledge. So don’t be afraid to connect with them and ask questions or even look for a mentor. I hope you all a healthy and successful life and career path.