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Making the giant leap from space to cyberspace

From simulating galaxies to enterprise security

Panaseer’s Dr Leila Powell explains why she made the leap from studying outer space to cyber security strategies

Dr Leila Powell is one of Panaseer’s big data and analytics whizz kids, helping the firm to assess and improve the security “hygiene” of big data companies as part of their cyber security strategy.

However, the 33-year-old scientist, with a degree in physics and astrophysics from Leicester University, as well as a PhD and two post-doctorates from Oxford, didn’t start out with the intention of entering the world of enterprise security.

Dr Powell’s fascination, since a very young age, was always space, time and the mysteries of the universe, such as black holes. Less than two years ago she was still a full-time research scientist.

The shift from academia to the challenge of cyber security

So how did a talented scientist from Abergavenny make such a quantum shift in career path; from using supercomputer technology to develop models of the galaxy for pattern analysis, to developing big data analytics tools for a firm involved in enterprise security? What attracted her to cyber security strategy?

Transferrable skills: big data analytics

Well, the two worlds are not as far apart as it appears at first glance, and so it was easy for Dr Powell to transfer her skills. Her academic study focused on astronomy and the formation of galaxies and, as Dr Powell puts it, this “essentially comes down to gravity and hydrodynamics”. Her work already involved a serious level of skill in analysing big data and understanding which parts were relevant for answering which questions.

Both her academic studies and her work in cyber security analytics involve being able to act as a bridge between two worlds – one which is invisible but rich in big data, and one where people want to see meaningful information that they can act on.

What attracted her to an enterprise security startup company like Panaseer?

It all comes down to a passion for data science in the end – but what was wrong with the wonderful world of academia? What prompted her move into enterprise security?

The study of the universe was too disconnected from real people and the world around her. “It was fascinating, but I wanted to do something that might impact on people’s lives more,” she says.

The noble pursuit of protecting data – “I’m on the good team.”

Dr Powell is well aware that big data analysis is used by companies eager to exploit a better understanding of human behaviour in order to sell more to them. Different organisations are more or less transparent in how they collect this data and she wanted to ensure that her work in the commercial world was both useful and ethical.

Her role at Panaseer gives her the opportunity to be a part of something essential and genuinely useful to everybody – the protection of personal information. Dr Powell sees what she does as being “on the good team.”

Making cyber security tools better

Dr Powell writes business analytics software to analyse the huge volumes of data coming from the client’s existing security tools. By creating the metrics and charts with which to measure and visualise the important data, she can present her findings to clients in a way that is meaningful to them so they can discuss vulnerabilities and strengths, and discover a better way of protecting their data.

More details on Dr Powell and her work in enterprise security with Panaseer can be found in The Times.

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