Professional hacker Parisa Tabriz is responsible for keeping the nearly billion users of Google Chrome safe by finding vulnerabilities in their system before malicious hackers do. Tabriz, a “white hat” hacker who calls herself Google’s “Security Princess”, is head of the company’s information security engineering team. The 31-year-old Polish-Iranian-American is also an anomaly in Silicon Valley according to a recent profile in The Telegraph: “Not only is she a woman – a gender hugely under-represented in the booming tech industry – but she is a boss heading up a mostly male team of 30 experts in the US and Europe.”
Tabriz came up with “Security Princess” while at a conference and the unusual title is printed on her business card. “I knew I’d have to hand out my card and I thought Information Security Engineer sounded so boring,” she says. “Guys in the industry all take it so seriously, so security princess felt suitably whimsical.” Her curiosity, mischievousness, and innovative thinking are all assets in her business: a high-profile company like Google is constantly in the crosshairs of so-called “black hat” hackers.
Tabriz came into internet security almost by accident; at the University of Illinois’ computer engineering program, her interest was first whetted by the story of early hacker John Draper, who became known as Captain Crunch in the 1960s after he learned how to make free long-distance calls using a toy whistle from a Cap’n Crunch cereal box. She realized that, to beat the hackers of today, she had to be prepared for similar — but more advanced — out-of-the-box thinking.
While women at still very under-represented in the tech industry — Google recently reported that only 30% of its staff is female — Tabriz has hope for the future: “[F]ifty years ago there were similar percentages of women in medicine and law, now thankfully that’s shifted.” And, while she hasn’t encountered overt sexism at Google, when she was offered the position, at least one classmate said, “you know you only got it cos you’re a girl.” To help address this imbalance, she mentors under-16 students at a yearly computer science conference that teaches kids how to “hack for good” — and she especially encourages girls to pursue internet security work. One 16-year-old who attended, Trinity Nordstrom, says, “Parisa is a good role model, because of her I’d like to be a hacker.”
Tabriz, who was named by Forbes as one of the “top 30 under 30 to watch” in 2012, also wants the public to realize that hacking can be used for positive ends. “[H]acking can be ugly,” she says. “The guy who published the private photos of those celebrities online made headlines everywhere. What he did was not only a violation of these women but it was criminal, and as a hacker I was very saddened by it. I feel like we, the hackers, need better PR to show we’re not all like that… [A]fter all I’m in the business of protecting people.”
To read more about Google’s “Security Princess” in The Telegraph, visit http://bit.ly/Z6Z5RG
[via A Mighty Girl]