From large-scale personal data theft and the intensification of denial-of-service attacks to the multiplication of ransomware and increasing mobile device hacks, a recent report by Europol, the European Police Office, reveals that cyber crime reached such a level in 2016 that it is replacing conventional crime in some EU countries.
A major player in cyber security, Airbus recognises that being able to thwart these growing threats for its customers and its own operations requires attracting top talents in the sector. Meet three cyber experts who have recently joined the company.
Quentin Fois was driven to explore computer security by his insatiable thirst to learn. Fascinated by the development of the internet and computers when he was still in secondary school, he studied resources available on the net to understand how they worked. “I began with programming but I soon came up against security problems that affected the system. I wanted to understand the flaws and find a solution to them.”
With his high school diploma under his belt, Fois decided to continue his studies at an engineering university in Bourges, which runs a course specialising in computer security. At the same time, he took part in challenges called ‘capture the flag’, an online game organised on a worldwide scale that consists of exploiting software vulnerabilities to hack into computers and retrieve the flags that prove the intrusion. “It kept me at the leading edge of technology and gave me contacts the world over,” he explains.
This passion opened up the doors to Airbus which, drawing inspiration from these competitions, runs a cyber challenge with the aim of hiring top talents. In December 2014, Fois’ team won the challenge and he was offered a traineeship at the company’s cyber security unit, which hired him in Elancourt in September 2015.
Today, this young 25-year-old from Sète wears two hats. As a computer security consultant, he studies his customers’ systems and needs in order to implement appropriate surveillance solutions. At the same time, he works in technological intelligence. “I analyse new malware to identify programs that could affect Airbus, and then I study them as if I were a hacker to find the right counter measures.”
While the international reputation of Airbus in computer security and its teams’ high level of expertise were major factors in his decision to join the company, Fois was also convinced by the innovative method of recruitment. “The company takes new, entertaining and instructional approaches to students. This kind of challenge is a really good way to concretely demonstrate your skills.” His enthusiasm in fact led him to help organise a second challenge in October 2016, where he in turn hired a trainee.
Tiphaine Romand-Latapie, who joined Airbus in May 2016, heads up a team of talented hackers that handles security audits designed to detect loopholes in the IT and aviation systems that the company either sells or buys. “The advantage is that we can pre-emptively conduct tests in attack mode to identify vulnerabilities and to see what a motivated hacker is capable of doing. We then recommend appropriate measures to counter the attacks,” explains the young woman from Paris.
Romand-Latapie, who simply loves cryptography, first studied maths before turning to computer security. “I felt like I was designing very nice unbreakable locks, but which were useless because people would leave the door open. So I sought to protect the locks and keys and that’s how I came to explore system security.”
Romand-Latapie first joined the French Ministry of Defence before moving to telecommunications operator Orange, where she was in charge of new product security.
"I’m especially lucky to work with a really great team, on a personal and technical level, and with an excellent international reputation," says Tiphaine.
After seeing that computer security is often something novices simply don’t get, she developed a serious game inspired by role plays to offer an entertaining demonstration of the importance of cyber security. The game is based on the principles of physical security: two teams respectively attempt to defend and attack a building by outsmarting their opponents’ measures. “The feedback from the course was beyond my expectations,” she says. “Not only did participants enjoy it, but they also learnt some instinctive reactions that will last.”
While Romand-Latapie continues to present her game at various conferences, she is now focussed on the many “interesting and technically demanding” challenges that her new job involves. “The environment is very stimulating at Airbus. I’m especially lucky to work with a really great team, on a personal and a technical level, and with an excellent international reputation.”
As of 1 May 2017, Alexander Leonhardt joined Airbus' cyber security team near Munich. “This department does exactly what I’m interested in and I really like the atmosphere. There are also opportunities for career advancement, particularly towards an expert position,” he says. Alexander is responsible for analysing customer systems to detect and investigate information security incidents.
This 35-year-old father, who likes playing the guitar and chess, will thus be embarking on a new career. Leonhardt comes from Russia, where he completed a teaching degree in maths and computer science at Saratov University. He then spent several years in Moscow in charge of call centre analytics at the telecommunications operator Beeline, before setting off on a new adventure.
In 2010, he decided to move to Germany, where his family roots lie. As his qualification was not yet recognised, he went back to university, in Würzburg, Bavaria, to study computer science.
“I have always been fascinated by maths and natural sciences, but it was the film Hackers, which I saw in 2004, that sparked off my fascination for computer security,” he recalls. He then spent his spare time consulting resources on the internet, studying literature on the topic and taking part in ‘capture the flag’ challenges, thus gaining knowledge and practical experience.
“I love solving puzzles and problems that look impossible on the face of it. Any system can be hacked into. And I want to know how, to be able to protect it better.” Currently in his last year on a master’s course in computer science, Leonhardt is doing his thesis at Airbus.
Enthusiastic about the cyber challenge arranged by the company, he went to meet the organisers and was put in contact with internal recruiters. “Luckily for me, I met some like-minded, passionate people who were prepared to give me a chance. When you love what you do, you end up achieving your goals when you set your mind to it,” he concludes.
A new recruitment method
Keen to develop its cyber security operations, Airbus uses cyber challenges to hire new talents in a very short time span. Following online pre-selection tests, the top candidates are invited to a final round where their abilities to thwart cyber attacks are tested. Participants of challenges organised in France, Germany and the UK have already joined Airbus’ cyber community.