The security community is continuously changing, growing, and learning from each other to better position the world against cyberthreats. In the latest post of our Community Voices blog series, Microsoft Security Senior Product Marketing Manager Brooke Lynn Weenig talks with Tanya Janca, Founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of We Hack Purple, who is known as SheHacksPurple and is the best-selling author of Alice and Bob Learn Application Security. The thoughts below reflect Tanya’s views, not the views of Tanya’s employer or Microsoft, and are not legal advice. In this blog post, Tanya talks about how to address ransomware attacks and the importance of security in development.
Brooke: You are known as SheHacksPurple. How did you become interested in hacking?
Tanya: I started coding as a teenager. Both of my aunts and three of my uncles are computer scientists, so learning to code did not seem out of place. I thought, “Every woman codes. Isn’t that the way?”
At college, I studied computer science and then was a software developer until around 2015, when I switched full time to security. I became more obsessed with security and software during my last two years in software development. I wanted to fix the bug and work with the penetration tester. I hustled my security team where I worked and after a year, one of them said, “We are posting a job for a security person and the job is for you. It was never for anyone else.” I joined that team.
I started speaking at conferences because you get in free, and when working for the federal government, they did not have a ton of money to fly me to another country for some cool training as part of a conference. I started getting plane tickets sent from all around the world and I flew everywhere.
Microsoft reached out and said, “We want to hire a developer advocate who understands security,” and I said, “Is this a prank call? Come on, that’s not a real job. You don’t get paid to do my hobby.” And they are like, “Yes, you do.”
Brooke: How valuable are information security certifications or any other certifications?
Tanya: Certifications have value depending on where you are in your career and the types of jobs you are looking for. There are not many application security certifications. There is one from my company, We Hack Purple. It is not widely recognized.
If you want a specific type of job, studying for a certification will teach you a lot. If you are new in your career, it shows evidence that you know something. One of the problems when you get a job in information security is that there is no clear career path and the people hiring you do not have the technical expertise to know what to ask you.
I have no certifications except for the ones from We Hack Purple. I have a college diploma and I took courses from the University of Maryland. The work I got was based on experience and mentors vouching for me. When people ask “Should I get one?” I say that if you have an active GitHub where you find bugs and fix all of them, that is evidence of skill. Sometimes, a certification helps with that, but they are not all created equal, and it costs a lot of money.
Brooke: What can companies do to protect themselves from ransomware attacks?
Tanya: Every IT department, even if you are not afraid of ransomware, should do backups and practice rollbacks. I worked somewhere once, and we had a glitch where 2,000 people lost all their work for the day. We still had copies of everything from the day before on our local machines, but a backup had not been done the night before. The backup team said it would take a month to replace that one day of work. And they said, “We don’t even know if it will work and it will copy over everything you have done in the meantime, so let’s not bother.”
I said to my boss, “We are going to save so much money because clearly we do not need them. They never practice the backup. Think of how many more developers we can hire.” Doing backups is good, but even better is practicing rollbacks so you can roll back in a reasonable amount of time and roll back more than just files. We need to roll back everything.
At We Hack Purple, we back up my machine in a special backup that no one else is in because I’m the CEO and I create most of the content. We also have a backup in the cloud and another physical backup in a different location that we do every week. If ransomware happens, I have everything backed up. There are companies that get hit with ransomware and just think, “Go away” and then they just roll everything back in an hour.
It is important to ensure that your backups are not attached to your network. Everyone has their fancy backup drive still connected to their computer and the ransomware is like “Excellent. I shall now encrypt your backup.”
About 60 percent of small businesses go out of business in the month after a cyberattack.1 Because we are such a small company, if we lose one of our people, that is a huge enough risk. But imagine we lose all their work. That is even worse.
Brooke: How can tech leaders limit the frequency and severity of a ransomware attack?
Tanya: Get training for your company on what ransomware looks like and how to defend yourselves. For instance, do not save to your local computer. Save to the cloud like everyone else. You can download local copies to your machine but emphasize what it is like to lose your work and how bad it would be.
I am getting everyone to turn on multifactor authentication because it is extra defense and could block an attack from being successful. I am a huge fan of password managers. At my company, everyone must use a password manager. They make up unique, long, and random passwords that human beings would never guess, and that computers have trouble guessing.
Helping employees protect themselves in their private life gives them even more practice using the password manager.
Brooke: At what part of a development cycle does security come in?
Tanya: We used to bring security in at the end and they would do a penetration test and it would be like shooting fish in a barrel. They would tell you all the things you have done wrong, but because it is close to go-time, they would fix one or two things, put a big bandage on it, and send it out the door.
For a long time, I would give conference talks, write blog articles, and say, “We need to shift security left,” and by left, I mean earlier in the system development lifecycle. It is cheaper, faster, and easier to fix security problems there, whether it be a design flaw or a security bug. But marketing teams got a hold of that and there are all sorts of products that have the word “shift” in the name. What they meant is buy our product, put it in your continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) pipeline, and all your dreams will come true. The term got co-opted.
Brooke: If you could impact one thing in security, what would it be and why?
Tanya: On a professional level, it would be that more universities and colleges start teaching secure coding. If they are going to work in information security, one of the classes should be about application security. I wrote my book “Alice and Bob Learn Application Security” hoping universities would teach it and they only want to teach it in cybersecurity programs. I am happy about that, but 100 percent of them refused to teach it to the computer science students and I said, “But they are the ones making all the bad code.”
On a personal level, I want information security to be inclusive of everyone. I want all the LGBTQIA people to show up. I want all the women to show up. I want people of every race and religion to show up. I want disabled people to show up. Everyone can contribute effectively, but there must be space for them.
If you’re attending the RSA Conference, do not miss Tanya’s sessions: “Adding SAST to CI/CD, without losing any friends” on April 26, 2023, “DevSecOps worst practices” on April 27, 2023, and “Creating a great DevSecOps culture” on April 27, 2023. And to learn more about Microsoft’s DevSecOps and shift left security solutions, visit the DevSecOps tools and DevSecOps services and Microsoft Defender for DevOps pages.
To learn more about Microsoft Security solutions, visit our website. Bookmark the Security blog to keep up with our expert coverage on security matters. Also, follow us on LinkedIn (Microsoft Security) and Twitter (@MSFTSecurity) for the latest news and updates on cybersecurity.
160 Percent of Companies Fail in 6 Months Because of This (It’s Not What You Think), Thomas Koulopoulos. May 11, 2017.
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