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Symantec appoints first cybersecurity czar to woo hacking talent

Uber-nerd Tarah Wheeler aims to build bridges

DEF CON Hardcore hackers and the corporate security industry have never really got on that well. Symantec is looking to change that after hiring Tarah Wheeler to act as its website cybersecurity czar.

Wheeler has a long career in the IT industry, including stints at Microsoft and Blackphone-maker Silent Circle. Both of her parents worked in security for the US government, she has attended hacker conventions across the US, and gone as far as embedding an RFID chip in her left hand.

“Symantec wanted a nerd and they got a nerd,” she told The Register. “I’m joining to talk to the independent hacker community and find crazy and interesting research that isn’t showing up on the corporate radar.”

She said that the problems between the hacker community and the professional security industry are understandable. "In America, firms don’t hire hackers, they jail them,” she opined, and acknowledged there’s a lot of mistrust to overcome.

But Symantec is serious about rectifying this, she said, otherwise she wouldn't have taken the job. The software biz wants to engage with the community, use their talents, and has a “fire in its belly” about the issue. She has an uphill task, based on conversations we’ve had with hackers at DEF CON.

Meanwhile, Wheeler's just published a book titled Women in Tech as part of a campaign to get more diversity in the IT community. In 1984, 38 per cent of US computer science degrees were earned by women, she said, but that’s down to just 12 per cent now. While there are more women in the cybersecurity industry, the field is growing so rapidly that the diversity gap is growing yearly.

DEF CON’s a good place to address this; it’s much less of a sausage-fest than most IT conferences. With her new role, Wheeler is hoping to get hackers onside, and do something to address the gender issues in the industry. ®

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