Tara Dharnikota has been working in the cyber security sector – or CySec – for more than a decade.
For the last five years, she’s led Telstra’s Open Source Intelligent (OSINT) unit, a specialist team that uses digital technologies and scours openly available sources of information, to find intelligence that helps protect our people and assets from malicious cyber threats and help us better understand threats to Telstra or our customers.
When many of us think of cyber security we focus on the defensive side, and how it’s about protecting us from hackers who access our online information to use against us.
But there’s another side to hacking, and for Tara, it started with her love of the computer game Prince of Persia.
“I wanted to somehow be able to play Prince of Persia on my old Nokia mobile by changing the internal code,” she says.
“I succeeded after a few days of persistence and persuasion.”
From there, her path was set.
“I started off my career with Network Engineering, but I noticed that my curiosity or hobby was more in how technology works and what happens if I break it,” she says.
“My critical thinking and problem-solving skills in breaking and fixing technology led me to look into careers in CySec.”
Recently, as part of Cyber Week 2019, Tara and 353 ethical hackers joined forces with the Australian Federal Police and AustCyber Canberra Innovation in a global hackathon to see if they could find 12 missing persons identified by the AFP.
Almost 4,000 qualified leads were generated and shared with AFP for further investigation – about their homes, friends, employment, family, and the last day they were seen.
“Our OSINT team came third in Australia and first in Victoria. It was a proud moment for all of us,” Tara adds.
She’s also competed successfully in international open source intelligence hacking competitions, coming in the top 10 per cent, and she’s been a judge in others.
But just how do you ethically hack?
“OSINT uses passive techniques to find information publicly available on surface web and Deep Dark Web (DDW) using search engines and open source tools covering places such as social media platforms, websites, forums and marketplaces, government and real estate data,” she explains.
“We then analyse that data to form intelligence.”
For Tara it’s a career full of twists and turns, daily achievements and always hope.
“Waking up every morning with zeal and passion to do your work can be very rewarding and satisfying knowing that you work to protect the people and the network and go home with a sense of achievement.”
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