Keeping future generations safe online

Zinet Kemal immigrated to the U.S. from Ethiopia 10 years ago, deciding to pivot from her decade-long legal career while raising her four children. Once in the U.S., Kemal completed an additional undergraduate degree in computer science, which first introduced her to security.

“I was participating in an extracurricular activity within my college; it was a cyber defense competition. That’s when I got exposed to the world of cybersecurity and security and I began working on security certifications,” Kemal says.

Kemal’s first security role was with the Minnesota state government, doing information security auditing within the organization. Six months later, Kemal was promoted to Senior Information Security Engineer at the state government where she worked in application security at the state government before moving to the cloud space, where she currently works as a Cloud Security Engineer at Best Buy.

“What I do in a nutshell high level is making sure that we’re collaborating with other engineers from the same organization to make sure that the cloud migration is done securely. A lot of the challenges within cloud security is misconfiguration, or things that could be preventable if the right guard rails are implemented in the security environment that we're operating,” Kemal says.

When the pandemic hit, Kemal turned to writing. She’s published three children’s books since 2020, two of which focus on cybersecurity awareness.

“I published my first children's book, ‘Proud in her Hijab’ in 2021. That was about empowering girls, and Muslim girls who choose to wear the hijab to be proud of who they are in their identity. But then six months later, something happened at my home. My kids are all online gamers, and they got hacked on two different scenarios. You know, out of the four kids, two of them got hacked. That really gave me the wakeup call to write my second book. What are we really doing as parents and even educators? We don't have cybersecurity education in schools. So what are we really doing besides arming kids with all the tablets and computers and gadgets and connecting them to the internet?” Kemal says.

What are we really doing besides arming kids with all the tablets and computers and gadgets and connecting them to the internet?”

In her second book, ‘Oh No…Hacked Again!’, Kemal stresses the importance of both online kindness alongside more traditional lessons around multi-factor authentication and maintaining online privacy. The internet can become dangerous for children very quickly, and Kemal wanted to ensure both children and their parents felt confident to keep themselves safe. Kemal took the lessons of this book to several speaking engagements, spreading awareness around protecting children in an online world.

“The other book is called ‘See Yourself in Cybersecurity’. That one is for middle and high school students to introduce and expose cybersecurity what it is as a career,” Kemal says.

The inspiration for this book came from Kemal’s LinkedIn, where she receives numerous questions from aspiring cybersecurity professionals.

“Growing up, I've never heard any kid who says that I want to be in cybersecurity. Long term planning for shrinking that workforce gap is making sure that our kids have those options; that the kids who look like me — look like us — are represented in this in this field. I think the industry could benefit a lot from having diverse voices and perspectives when solving the sophisticated problems that we continue to face in the industry,” Kemal says.

Kemal recently received her master’s in cybersecurity from Georgia Tech University, which she attended virtually while residing in Minnesota. After learning about security towards the end of her undergraduate career, Kemal wanted to expand her cybersecurity knowledge.

“The field that we're in, it's always a continuous learning,” Kemal says.

Kemal also participates in several lecturing and education experiences. Her TEDx talks and LinkedIn learning courses provide career development assistance for other cybersecurity professionals. Kemal’s advocacy centers on closing gaps within the industry. While encouraging young people to consider cybersecurity as part of their career paths, Kemal also works with current professionals to increase diversity within the field. She uses her experiences as an immigrant, a Black woman, a mother and a professional to educate and uplift others within the industry.