JEDDAH: More Saudi women want to specialize in cybersecurity as it becomes one of the Kingdom’s most in-demand sectors, according to experts.
Cloud security engineer at Farmers Insurance Co., Dalal Al-Harthi, created an all-female cybersecurity bootcamp that lasted three months and took place from mid-June to mid-September.
She tweeted an announcement on April 19, asking women who were interested in learning about cybersecurity to apply for a bootcamp place. More than 3,000 applied before the registration deadline.
“I was very happy and encouraged to see this enthusiasm toward learning and that many women were interested in being part of this bootcamp, so I decided to accept as many applicants as I could,” she told Arab News.
Al-Harthi is a doctoral candidate in the US although her trainees are mostly in Saudi Arabia. She taught trainees about all cybersecurity fields and areas including Linux Commands, Python Programming, Cloud Security, Network Security, Incident Response, Digital Forensics, SIEMs, Ethical Hacking – Penetration Testing, Cryptography, and CompTIA Security+.
“I designed it to be 20 percent theoretical knowledge and 80 percent hands-on practice on several cybersecurity tools and platforms such as AWS, Snort, Wireshark, PyCharm, Kleopatra, OpenSSL, MySQL, DVWA, BurpSuite, HTML, Splunk, Autopsy, John the Ripper, as well as working on Virtual Machines: Kali Linux, Tiny Core, Ubuntu, Metasploitable2, Windows 10, Windows Server 2016, and Raven.”
In addition to improving trainees’ cybersecurity knowledge and experience, she focused on how to get them employer-ready by enriching their resumes and polishing their interview skills.
Al-Harthi told El-Ekhbariya in a TV interview that the shortage in female cybersecurity specialists was not restricted to the Kingdom. It was a global issue and the field had a gender problem. “By the end of 2019, women represented 20 percent of the cybersecurity workforce globally.”
She said she was “extremely passionate” about empowering Saudi women and pushing for more women in cybersecurity in particular to up female representation to 50 percent.
“This bootcamp is one of the steps that I took toward achieving that. I have absolute confidence that the trainees in my bootcamp will help share the knowledge that they gained to support other women in the field.”
By the end of 2019, women represented 20 percent of the cybersecurity workforce globally.
The bootcamp was held virtually through the Classera platform, and specialists created it free of charge to support and empower women who were interested in learning about and working in the cybersecurity field.
Muhammad Khurram Khan, professor of cybersecurity at King Saud University and founder and CEO of the Global Foundation for Cyber Studies and Research in Washington D.C., said that Saudi women were showing high levels of success in several fields and professions.
“They are also outperforming male counterparts by their passion and enthusiasm for higher studies and research,” he told Arab News. “Recently, a great surge of Saudi women in information and communications technology has been observed, especially with a particular interest in the cybersecurity field. This interest is getting momentum due to the recently launched initiative of the National Cybersecurity Authority to support and encourage women to participate in the cybersecurity profession.”
He said that Saudi female students at local universities were taking part in cybersecurity research, projects, professional certifications, and securing top positions in the “Capture the Flag” hacking competitions.
“They have also published a number of high-impact research publications in top international journals and conferences, which is indeed commendable. This all shows their great potential, professionalism, and talent in the cybersecurity field, which would ultimately contribute to protecting the Kingdom’s cyber assets from adversaries.”
The professor added that universities and institutions needed to launch programs to attract female students and professionals to the cybersecurity field to overcome their under-representation and under-utilization in the industry.
“The global shortage of a skilled cybersecurity workforce is a rising challenge and we all have to play our role to overcome it as a shared responsibility. To strengthen the cybersecurity skills of Saudi female students and professionals, public and private sector organizations should come forward to set up cybersecurity hands-on training courses, launch cybersecurity incubators and accelerators, and commence guidance and counseling programs.”