Fighting sophisticated cyber criminals and implementing gold standard cybersecurity practices, Head of Security Advisory & Risk at Equifax Sulata Bhattacharjee is a leading advocate for women in security.
Sulata is especially passionate about financial inclusion thanks to her origins from a small town in India.
She tells Game Changers host Gemma Acton how she could easily have been part of the unbanked population without access to credit, education and the opportunity to buy a property or travel.
From implementing world standard cyber security practises, to fighting increasingly sophisticated online criminals, Sulata Bhattacharjee’s team ensures faster and more secure solutions for its customers. And, she’s a strong advocate for women in security. So is she a game changer? Let’s find out! I’m Gemma Acton, welcome to Game Changers.
Gemma: Sulata welcome to Game Changers. You currently head up a security advisory team, but you started your career as an ethical hacker. Sounds very exciting, tell us more.
Sulata: I started my career 20 years ago and I was the only graduate in my cohort when I joined the big four. So, they naturally pulled me into the ethical hacking team, which is a highly technical team that breaks into computer systems to identify vulnerabilities. I then progressed into consulting, management consulting, went into a couple of other roles and landed in the security advisory space.
Gemma: Sulata the statistics are quite shocking, let’s go through them to set the scene. Last year, $33 billion worth of cyber-crime linked losses, which translates to an attack every eight minutes. How do you help businesses and individuals to fortify themselves against becoming victims of cyber-crime?
Sulata: At Equifax we truly believe in being an industry leader in security and we believe in transparency, communication and collaboration. Security is a team sport, so it’s very important that we share the learnings that we’ve had over the years. Education awareness is therefore really important. As head of security advisory in risk we need to ensure people understand how they can secure their systems and also making sure we proactively identify those cyber-risks.
Gemma: Having those robust cyber security measures in place is a really important part of Equifax’s culture. As team leader, how do you instil and maintain that culture?
Sulata: It comes down to three key things. The first thing is having a strong tone from the top and at Equifax we say that security is part of our DNA. Second, many other business leaders will tell you that security is everybody’s responsibility, but it is also the responsibility of my team to continually engage with our business teams and ensuring they are aware of their security requirements. Thirdly, it’s about having frictionless security, making sure that it’s easy to be secure.
Gemma: Sulata your work is broad, not just in Australia but also New Zealand and eight other territories. From a cyber-crime perspective, are we seeing similar trends across the world?
Sulata: Absolutely. There are slight differences in terms of the market: the maturity or the regulation the market. For example, I also cover India with very strict regulatory requirements from a cyber perspective, where we have to differ slightly for that particular market. However, our approach to cyber is generally consistent across the board, where we are constantly monitoring the cyberthreat landscape and making sure that we are addressing and mitigating those threats.
Gemma: Given a spate of high-profile attacks and scams, people are very conscious and there’s quite a big fear around the topic. Do you think that fear of being scammed limits people in terms of transacting online? How do we give them that additional degree of comfort?
Sulata: For me, it’s all about awareness. The awareness that these breaches have brought to the market is actually really helpful, since it’s important that people are vigilant and monitoring their accounts. Given our digital footprint at the moment, breaches are only going to get more prevalent.
Gemma: Often we think about hackers being by themselves in a dark room, but actually it’s much more coordinated and bigger than that, isn’t it?
Sulata: Absolutely. Cyber-crime at the moment is organised crime with project managers, KPI’s, and call centres. It’s definitely trended away from that person with a hoodie in the bedroom. There is a lot of money in data, which is sometimes referred to as the new oil, since there is so much to gain and the barrier to entry is quite low. There are tools and techniques that are readily available on the dark web, making it quite easy for people to gain a lot from it.
Gemma: Sulata, how does your team move quickly enough to stay ahead of these threats or at a minimum, keep up with these threats?
Sulata: We engage across industry forums and constantly talking to government, industry partners, suppliers and our vendors. As I mentioned, security is a collaborative sport and it’s really important that we work together. We’re constantly monitoring the threat landscape for new intelligence on the growing threat and constantly modifying our defences according to that.
Gemma: Given the right tools, how much can businesses and individuals do to protect themselves?
Sulata: There’s a lot they can do. Automation is really important and moving to the cloud is really important too. With the speed cyber is moving at the moment, it’s imperative that we imbed as much automation as we can into our defences. That’s likely the only way we’re going to win going forward as that’s what the threat actors are doing at the moment.
Gemma: Sulata, why does the term financial inclusion have special resonance for you?
Sulata: It is actually part of the reason why I joined Equifax and something I think about a lot. My mother was born into a small rural village in India, one without running water or electricity. Therefore, it’s not lost on me that I could have very easily been part of that community had she not moved to Australia. I could have been part of the unbanked population without access to credit, without the educational opportunities or even the opportunity to buy a property or travel. Financial inclusion is really important to me and that it’s not just accessible to the privileged but accessible to everyone. That is why I’m invested in Equifax’s mission to make financial inclusion a possibility for everyone.
Gemma: Let’s talk about a topic that’s very dear to your heart: Australian women in security. You’re passionate about this and want to see more women come into the industry and thrive.
Sulata: Yes absolutely. First and foremost, diversity is pivotal for good security, not only from a gender perspective but also from a neurodiversity and age perspective. Cyber is a really complex problem and the more perspectives we can bring to the table the better outcomes we can get. For me personally, being a woman, the women in security aspect resonates with me and I feel it is my responsibility and my generation’s responsibility to pave the way for other women going forward.
Gemma: How does Equifax foster that diversity to give yourselves the best chance of finding the right security solutions?
Sulata: At Equifax we are very committed to diversity. We have a female CEO, we have strong diversity policies and particularly the women insecurity agenda, which I was brought in to drive forward. We have just become the sponsor of the Australian women in security network, which is the flagship security network for women in Australia and their mission is to support, connect and inspire women. So, we’re very committed to facilitating their cause because we wholeheartedly believe that diversity leads to stronger security.
Gemma: And your efforts in that space have just been recognised!
Sulata: Yes, we were just awarded ‘Highly Commended for Best Place for Women in Security to Work’ for the Australian women in security awards and that’s a great recognition of our efforts. I really believe that Equifax is committed to diversity and that really acknowledges that fact.
Gemma: Keep up the great work. Sulata, thank you.
Sulata: Thank you so much.
More about Equifax
Equifax powers the financial future of individuals and organisations around the world. Using the combined strength of unique trusted data, technology and innovative analytics. Equifax has grown from a consumer credit company into a leading provider of insights and knowledge that helps its customers make informed decisions. The company organises, assimilates and analyses data on more than 820 million consumers and more than 91 million businesses worldwide, and its database includes employee data contributed from more than 6,600 employers.
Find our more here: Equifax.com.au