Natalie Silvanovich, Security Researcher

Security Researcher, BlackBerry (aka: “Professional hacker”)

Natalie is a Security Researcher.  She tests BlackBerry products to prevent attackers from getting to the confidential information of BlackBerry users.

“It’s so cool to be involved in a new emerging area. Mobility is becoming a big part of computing and security is a very important part of that. It’s exciting to be in a field where things are happening, especially in the wider world, that weren’t even possible a few years ago.”

Natalie's CareerMash

Security is a huge issue for tech companies.  It keeps products, codes and entire businesses competitive. For BlackBerry, the security and privacy of email data is a key selling point. When BlackBerry releases a new product it must ensure that no confidential information (such as passwords or email content) is vulnerable to cyber-attackers.

Natalie’s job is to hack BlackBerry’s own products and systems to seek out potential security issues that need fixing. Natalie became a security team leader thanks to her strong research and coding skills.

“We test the BlackBerry device from hardware up to applications. We look at the BlackBerry Enterprise Server that business customers use, as well as BlackBerry’s own infrastructure.  A lot of code is only used internally -- for example the code that delivers customer emails to BlackBerry devices around the world,” Natalie says. 

A day in the life

  • Natalie does a lot of outside-the-box thinking. “You need to discover new ways that a hacker could break something that’s never been done before. If something prevents the hacker from exploiting a security risk, they will think creatively around that barrier,” she says. 
  • Natalie also designs ways to make BlackBerry products more secure in general. Her work has prevented several major security holes in products that are used by governments and large organizations. But we can’t tell the details for security reasons!
  • Natalie’s job requires high attention to detail. She spends a lot of time combing through code, documents and other parts of software. She gets to understand in depth how computers and software work.

Why this job rocks

  • “There’s a lot to learn and a lot of problems to be solved. There’s still a lot to discover and improve. It’s amazing how much I’ve learned in such a short time,” Natalie says.
  • Natalie loves her team, learning from others and just talking about the field of security. She’s applied these lessons to her own life.  Natalie wired her purse so outside lights blink when her BlackBerry receives a new message. 
  • “It’s really satisfying to find an issue or get a computer system to do something bad. It’s even more fun if it was completely unexpected and no one can believe you managed to do that,” Natalie says.

Roadmap

  • Natalie grew up in Vancouver and studied electrical engineering at the University of British Columbia
  • She did two co-ops, one at Nokia where she worked in automated testing (making machines that do things like press keys to make sure cell phones do what they’re programmed to do) and another at a computer chip design company called PMC-Sierra, where she also worked in testing.
  • She got an internship with BlackBerry in security research and made the move to Ontario. She loved it so much that she worked three co-op terms before being hired. 
  • Natalie started as a research analyst (junior researcher) and became a full researcher within a year. She recently moved into a team lead role with a team of six.  

Speed Bumps

  • “Technology is constantly changing, so you’re always trying to keep up. This is part of what makes the job enjoyable,” Natalie says.
  • She teaches herself new ways to “break” things and learns new security threats as they arise. This job also requires extensive and detailed coding skills, so Natalie practices and improves her coding daily.
  • She sometimes organizes demos to illustrate the importance of resolving even the most minor security issues. This requires Natalie to have presentation and people skills so she can effectively sell her ideas.  

Tips for success

  • Show your interest: Natalie meets a lot of people who say they’re interested in security but don’t show it. Try hacking at home (legally, of course), read related books and follow trends in the media. 
  • Explore your interests: Figure out what areas of technology interest you the most. The field is huge, so don’t be afraid to explore!  Read as much as you can and talk to people in various areas.
  • Contribute to open-source: Open-source software is freely available in the public domain. No one actually owns it.  You can get it for free, improve it and give it away.
  • Practice: If you love it, practice, practice, practice! “If you’re in high school and you’ve developed your coding skills to an extent you can write software or contribute to software projects, it will really impress potential schools and potential employers,” Natalie advises.
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