Woman in Tech who Pack a Punch

This year millions of Australians were shocked by the apparent insecurity of their personal information, with high profile data breaches, ransomware and phishing attacks in Australia. Consumers are understandably nervous, with recent research uncovering that almost a third (31%) of Australians have abandoned a payment or purchase online due to security concerns (PayPal’s 2022 eCommerce Report).

Thankfully, leading specialists in the information security space, including PayPal’s own Daniela Fernandez, are fighting the good fight, educating Australians on staying safe online and urging vigilance.

Armed with the ideal knowledge, passion and experience, Daniela channels lessons from her upbringing in Colombia, and the strength it took to stake her claim as a leading woman in technology, into her mission to help protect the online identities of Australians. 

Shattering the Glass Ceiling, and the story that comes with it.

Growing up in Colombia, Daniela faced fear, violence and corruption as an inescapable part of life. While studying in the first year of her Computer Science and Software Engineering bachelor’s degree, Daniela’s mother was the victim of a horrific violent crime. While leaving a bank, she was attacked by an armed robber and miraculously survived five gunshot wounds.

The attack had a profound impact on Daniela and continues to shape her career and world view.  This is evident in her passion for security and preparedness, and for empowering women – from how she raises her two daughters, to her role within PayPal and the technology industry writ large. Daniela is committed to sharing her experience with all those dedicated to security, breaking barriers and fighting stereotypes.

The Chops: what cybersecurity and kung fu have in common

Daniela’s passion for protection is also evident in her life outside technology, as she has competed at an international level in Kung-Fu, representing Colombia in several South American tournaments.

She believes that Kung-Fu helped shape her own career in security.

“Many of the lessons from Kung-Fu have been foundational to how I have forged my own career,” she explains. “I’ve learnt the importance of staying switched on, to focus on making progress rather than achieving perfection and appreciate the outcome when you have given the best of yourself to achieve something, even when it wasn’t the positive result you were expecting because reflecting on mistakes is a way to keep learning.

Daniela is currently responsible for overseeing PayPal’s Information Security in market, a role which she has held for the past year. Her work as a leader in cybersecurity and analytics has allowed her to realise that diversity of thought, continuous learning, and inclusivity are driving factors that will help to overcome cyberthreats.

“One of the greatest challenges in cybersecurity today is the never-ending number of emerging threats,” she shares, “as well as the constant demand to adapt and upskill to stay ahead.”

“When it comes to cybersecurity, diversity of thought is so important. Attacks can come in all forms, and threat actors come from across the globe – many of whom will have different ways of thinking. If we look around the world, reaching out to the diverse untapped talent pool, including those with an intersection of characteristics like gender, age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, neurodiversity, people with disability and much more, it will be very beneficial, especially since there is currently significant skills shortage in Australia.”

Why more women in tech are needed to solve real-world problems

Daniela is a firm believer that more women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) based roles holds the key to tackling big issues. She regularly attends and addresses cybersecurity forums dedicated to women in security, where the sharing of knowledge and connections helps women advance their tech and cybersecurity careers. Last month Daniela was recognised for her leadership as one of the top 3 transformational and inspiring CSOs at the 2022 CSO Australia Awards.

With a career that is all about using innovation and ground-breaking discoveries to defend against real-life threats, Daniela understands that through diversity and inclusion, you get more ideas – and with more ideas, come more solutions to the problems we’re facing.

“Across the world, girls and women represent an untapped talent, and there is such a mismatch between women’s STEM abilities and their confidence. In an industry that's growing exponentially and offering rewarding careers, we need to keep driving initiatives, including getting more male allies to achieve equal representation,”

“At the end of the day, increasing the number of women in STEM-based roles to help solve real world problems is not just a women’s challenge, it’s a societal responsibility.” says Daniela.

Ensuring a knowledge base for all

Some experts are concerned that the stream of news about data breaches is setting a new normal and instilling a sense of defeat and complacency in consumers. This is understandable, considering the way technology is embedded in our everyday routines and brings convenience to our lives.

“While it can feel like there’s a new security scare every week, there are simple changes we can make that go a long way toward protecting yourself and your information online”.

“We know that the cyber threat landscape has grown considerably in the past two decades and continues to change rapidly, with cyber criminals targeting the most vulnerable groups. We also know that we have a skills shortage issue in our industry and for many people cybersecurity and online safety are still abstract concepts.  While the Government, private and public sectors collectivelysolve the systemic issues of insufficient diversity in our industry, skills shortage and cybersecurity literacy, as individuals we can take steps to share knowledge with others on how to stay safe online”.

“The goal for us is to ensure access and education, regardless of age or gender, on how to build a strong security baseline for your digital life that doesn’t require effort to maintain, but instead, truly empowers you to stay safe online”, says Daniela.

This includes simple steps like not reusing passwords, using two-factor authentication, installing software only from trusted sources, and questioning every alert that pops up on your screen.

You can find more safety and security information here.

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