Jacqueline ‘Jax’ Gough, Cyber Security Hunting Specialist for Vodafone, always carries a USB data blocker with her when travelling, especially in these times of heightened cyber security threats. This is to keep her data safe in case she needs to plug a device into a ‘free’ charging socket.
She explained that free charging points found at public places, such as at airports and on trains, could be syphoning off your data. “It’s just not worth the risk,” she advised.
That’s not all that Jax carries with her. She also has an impressive collection of medals from competitive powerlifting contests, including a gold one from the World Bench Press Championships held in Lithuania, October 2021.
Lifting the weight of a Grand Piano
Jax explained: “I picked up my first weight only eight years ago whilst on a family holiday in Lanzarote. After accepting a friendly challenge to compete in a Tough Mudder event – think extreme obstacle course mostly through mud – I then hit the hotel gym. I haven’t looked back since.”
Inspired by Kelly Phasey, a multiple medal-winning powerlifting British champion, Jax made her first bench press lift using a 20kg bar without weights in 2016. The following year she won the British Powerlifting Bench Press Championship with a lift of 80 kg and was duly selected to represent Team GB.
A dislocated hip and major damage to her spine in an unrelated accident, didn’t deter Jax. She went on to claim multiple British and European championships in addition to conquering the world last year. Her personal best total is 369.5 kg – heavier than some grand pianos and fully grown polar bears with a ‘Masters’ record bench press of 121.5kg.
Jax’s meteoric rise in powerlifting is equalled by her progression in the cyber security sector. Born in Largs, a seaside town in North Ayrshire, Scotland, she started her career as a telecommunications operator in the military aged 17. It wasn’t long before she moved up the ranks.
She explained: “Having gained experience in the field, in 2003, I joined the computer incident response team built by the Royal Air Force (RAF). They gave me the tools and taught me the skills I still use today to protect Vodafone’s millions of customers. Essentially, I was given an advanced network to experiment with, allowing me to conduct the most basic analysis or full-on digital forensics.”
Think digital Sherlock!
Following basic RAF training, she met her husband Richard in the air force (he is now her powerlifting handler) before switching to the private sector. With plenty of experience under her belt at a major defence firm, consultancy, an equipment vendor and global publisher, Jax joined Vodafone in 2021.
Jax not only lifts weights – she and her team carry a huge responsibility on their shoulders. While she can’t go into detail, Jax and her colleagues look for any online anomalies inside Vodafone’s own corporate network which could lead to new information on cyber criminals and to protecting the company’s assets.
“I monitor all of Vodafone core infrastructure assets, that’s quite a lot of data. And that’s where the hunting bit comes in.
“The cyber security hunting team find what is not found. Think Sherlock for all things digital. We do this by examining telemetry from all available systems… locating a needle in a haystack comes to mind.”
Vodafone has multiple layers of security, including intrusion detection and prevention, secure devices, and firewalls, but no system is 100% infallible. “Our job is to find any bad stuff first, neutralise it before it impacts anyone, and then work out how to detect it automatically next time.”
‘Remember you’re not alone’
Today, Vodafone has a team of around 900 people working across Cyber Security in Europe, Africa, and other parts of the world. And with the world being such an uncertain and volatile place, Vodafone is expanding its cyber security presence both by hiring new personnel and through the specialist products and services it offers customers, from multinational corporations to small enterprises.
What advice does Jax have for any woman looking to pursue a career in cyber security? “Don’t let anyone say you shouldn’t do that - except of course if its dealing with electricity or explosives! In that case, be careful.
“Remember you’re not alone. There are always mentors and friends out there. I know the world can feel like a lonely place. I’ve been there. But I also know that if you put your mind to it, anything is possible.”
Tips on keeping safe
Jax has another piece of advice for everyone. “Patch, patch, and patch. Please keep everything up to date and do not install software for things that require bypassing security or ‘rooting’ your phone or system.
“By keeping systems up to date, you make the attackers job harder. Also, it is imperative to create passwords that are more than 12 characters long. Don’t use easily guessed words in your password and always use different passwords for different services. Many cyber-attacks start with a weak password or a phishing email. Attackers are also clever at tricking people into doing something without them ever knowing. Don’t leave any low hanging fruit for them.”
Jax is now embarking on a new mission, which she calls project Moon. She is turning her home ‘green’ by using solar energy to power her home gym, laboratory, and other rooms. And being Jax, she has a secure and reliable back up.
Although Jax didn’t embrace arithmetic until the age of eight years old, she now finds that complex algorithms and inspecting data packets “flick my switch.” Jax has warmth and humour in abundance while her grit and determination shine as bright as the powerlifting medals around her neck.
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