Demystifying Cyber: Jessica Robinson’s Effort to Empower Women Online

It will take a paradigm shift to defend our national security moving forward. Women and people of color should be at the forefront of this effort. Demystifying Cybersecurity, a #ShareTheMicInCyber and Ms. magazine monthly series, spotlights women from the #ShareTheMicInCyber movement—highlighting the experiences of Black practitioners, driving a critical conversation on race in the cybersecurity industry, and shining a light on Black experts in their fields.

Jessica Robinson is the executive officer of PurePoint International, helping CEOs and senior level leaders bridge the gap among data security, cyber risk and privacy, and is currently the vCISO for Women In Cybersecurity. PurePoint International provides cybersecurity consulting and training for financial services, insurance and other middle market global companies from start-up to $350M in revenue.

Jessica Robinson, executive officer of PurePoint International. (Courtesy)

Jessica’s vision to create a different kind of security company, and innovating Consciously Secure Leadership, has earned the company and award for International Affairs and Women’s Security from Jaycees Philippines-New York Chapter in 2016, and Philanthropy Company of the Year Award for the 2021 Ally of the Year Awards. Jessica is also on the board of the authentication technology company Netlok and board chair of World Pulse.

Lauren Zabierek: What do you do? What does a normal day look like for you?

Jessica Robinson: I am a principal information security officer (similar to a chief information security officer, but for entrepreneurs, small/medium businesses and nonprofits).

My day varies as a business owner managing the needs of the business to serve our clients as a practitioner with the various services we offer. However, I typically start my morning with meditation and tea. I then focus on completing project (client) work, and then have meetings in the late morning into the afternoon with my team, clients or partners. Mondays and Fridays are my most routine days regarding the business, but every day differs!

Zabierek: How does your work keep people safe?

Robinson: We innovated a holistic security model (cyber, physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual security) that we have improved over the past 10 years. It’s not for everyone, but does uniquely support a group of our clients with specific needs and focuses.

We find that people come to us after going to other IT or security companies, and even law enforcement. We are known for, and operate best, in challenging situations: highly intense scenarios or turnaround situations. We have a very specific approach that allows our clients to get significant results in a short period of time, personally or within an organization.

Zabierek: How did you get into cybersecurity?

Robinson: Ever since I was a child, I knew security was for me! It was like I was born to do this work—and when I saw Matthew Broderick in the movie War Games, I said, “I wanted to be a hacker.” I started off as a double major in computer science and law and security in undergrad. It was a challenging experience. As a young Black woman, I didn’t have a lot of confidence in this area and with the lack of support, I ended up dropping the major. However, I came back to cybersecurity years later feeling the calling to explore, and perhaps reclaim, what was left behind.

In the end, there was a lot I was passionate about that I wanted to do in my work, and I figured to do the work I wanted to do I would need to create the role that I wanted. Before I did that, however, I would need to create the company I wanted to work for. This is an abbreviated version of how I got into the work I am doing, and was the impetus for starting PurePoint International.

“Ever since I was a child, I knew security was for me,” Robinson said. (Courtesy)

Zabierek: What do you wish people knew about working in cybersecurity?

Robinson: There are multiple roles within the industry! There is a place for everyone as long as they have passion for their particular area and a willingness to learn. The industry moves quickly so learning is constant and ongoing.

Zabierek: Why is cybersecurity important for women?

Robinson: Specifically, I think being safe is important to women. Cybersecurity, or digital security, is an aspect of safety. Women are targeted more online (particularly women of color), stalked online, experience cyber porn and other abuses significantly more than men. Learning how to protect themselves and having confidence in an area, like cybersecurity, that can seem a bit amorphous, or intimidating, is why cybersecurity is important for women.

I think being safe is important to women. Cybersecurity, or digital security, is an aspect of safety.

Jessica Robinson

Zabierek: What is your cybersecurity or privacy tip?

Robinson: There are so many I could share, but what I would say is whether you are just starting out or you have strong security practices, the key thing is consistency. Once you start using MFA, a password manager, or start another habit, it’s important to do it consistently.

Zabierek: Self-care is so important in the security world — what do you do to unwind or relax?

Robinson: I meditate daily. I also try to sit outside or go for a walk each day. Relaxing at the end of the day with friends, watching a movie, working out or a bath is a way I also enjoy releasing energy at the end of the day.

Zabierek: If you could wave a magic wand to change anything about the cybersecurity industry, the law or technology ecosystem, what would you change and how would you do it?

Robinson: The speed of technology and cybercrimes against individuals, and organizations, is moving so quickly. However, the laws have not caught up. I would love to see the laws better protect those that are targeted online, particularly underrepresented individuals in high profile roles — like those running for public office.

I would love to see the laws better protect those that are targeted online.

Jessica Robinson

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Lauren Zabierek is the executive director of the Cyber Project at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center.