In our season finale, the internationally renowned security analyst talks with Jaya Baloo about a passwordless future, digital identity, and being a techno-optimist
“I work in the most interesting field in the world – cybersecurity. I’ve been doing this since I was 14 and I’ve not been bored a single day!” Keren Elazari tells Avast CISO Jaya Baloo early in the interview of our tenth episode and Season 1 finale of the Avast Hacker Archives (AHA) podcast. Keren is explaining how she maintains the energy to do everything she does, which includes:
Being an internationally recognized security analyst, researcher, author, and speaker; working with leading cybersecurity firms, government organizations, and Fortune 500 companies; being the first Israeli woman to give a TED talk at the official TED Conference (her TED talk on hackers has been viewed millions of times and translated into 30 languages); founding BSidesTLV, Israel’s largest cybersecurity community events; founding Leading Cyber Ladies network, a global professional network for women in cybersecurity; and being a senior researcher at Tel Aviv University.
She easily finds time for everything, she says, because she loves what she does. She’s had a curious mind since childhood, when her father was an electrical engineer and would leave pieces of gadgets lying around the house. He was also an early adopter, so Keren found herself with all the legacy devices of the time. Then, in 1995, she saw a movie that changed her life – Hackers.
Sure, it was Hollywood’s version of the hacking lifestyle, but she was hooked. She wanted to be Angelina Jolie’s character Acid Burn. She began exploring the internet. Before anyone thought of internet crime laws, she was poking around and finding herself in other users’ systems. She learned to speak English by communicating on early IRC channels. Her handle back then? Acid Burn, of course.
But it was her time working in a military security communications unit that instilled the moral compass that would direct her career. She realized that her job was securing the systems on which her country relied, and that responsibility was one she did not take lightly.
“I like to believe that I am a techno-optimist at heart,” she admits. “So, while I grew up with cyberpunk movies and books, imagining a dystopian technological future, I like to believe that technology in the big picture has actually helped us in many ways.” And her positive outlook extends beyond the tech to the people who manage it. She led a project at Tel Aviv University that proved the fact that bug bounty hunters are not in it primarily for the money.
In our episode, she explains to Jaya why hacking is like the internet’s immune system. Friendly hackers work to find vulnerabilities and bring them to everyone’s general attention, thus making the overall system healthier. “The mindset of a hacker is one that I think leads us to innovation, to evolution. It forces us to evolve, and I think it’s positive and it actually makes the world more interesting,” she tells Jaya.
What is holding her interest these days? “Today, one of the things I’m researching and that I’m passionate about is a passwordless future.” She is occupying her time researching different technologies in that space, and she is hoping for a future with better forms of authentication. “Passwords belong in our past,” she says, explaining that it’s humanly impossible for people to manually manage all the different usernames and passwords they’re supposed to be managing.
To Keren, the future is about leaving this password era behind us and focusing on a more holistic look at our digital identities. As Jaya says, “Digital identity is definitely the cornerstone of having a good security program, but it’s also the basis for being able to protect your security online.” Keren agrees, commenting that because people now work from anywhere, identity is the new perimeter, the new boundary.
“Start thinking about your digital identity as an expansion of your physical identity,” she says. “Because that’s what it is. It’s part of you.”
When asked what her advice is to young women who look up to her, Keren’s message is simple: You belong. Your voice matters. To provide even more inspiration, she teamed up with eight other women to publish their stories in the book Women in Tech.
This season finale is packed with great insights, including Keren’s basic security advice, her take on what the pandemic did for us, and what cybersecurity needs to change immediately in order to protect our future. It’s a great sendoff to a great season of episodes. We definitely saved one of the best and brightest for last. Check it out at the link below, and we’ll see you back here soon for Season 2!