The potential for automation of both repetitive and more complex tasks — The most exciting thing about AI, to me, is that it gives people time back. With AI that responds to threats as soon as they appear with surgical precision, as well as writes up reports and does hours of manpower in seconds, security teams have more time to focus on higher-value tasks that require their human expertise.
As part of my series about the women leading the Artificial Intelligence industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brianna Leddy.
Brianna Leddy is Director of Analysis at Darktrace, a critical leadership role in analysis the most sophisticated threats that emerge in the world across Darktrace’s 4,700 strong customer base. Brianna has been with the cyber AI leader for five years and prior to this role Leddy studied Chemical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University.
Outside of work, she enjoys crocheting and has made everything from blankets to sweaters. Most evenings you’ll find her curled up on the couch with her cat and latest project, but she also enjoys getting out and hiking in Northern California.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you share with us the ‘backstory” of how you decided to pursue this career path in AI?
I studied Chemical Engineering due to my love for technical problem solving and analysis and when I finished University I worked as a process engineer to turn this passion into a career.
However, I wanted to be part of the movement that was solving new and complex challenges facing society with innovation. This is exactly what Darktrace is doing with its breakthrough technology.
The cyber challenge is fascinating because threats are constantly evolving; we are facing a new era of cyber-attacks where we see everything from silent but deadly campaigns to machine-speed, automated attacks. Cyber security is not only a key concern for business CEO’s but is now a societal problem and a significant national security risk. It was fascinating to me how Darktrace looked at the problem in a way that nobody else had done before and was inventing AI technology that could automatically stop in progress attacks on behalf of humans.
What lessons can others learn from your story?
You don’t need a double PhD in mathematics to be part of a cool, successful AI business!
There are many people that fit those credentials at our R&D center in Cambridge, UK, but a standout AI business needs accountants, storytellers, linguists (and chemical engineers!).
Can you tell our readers about the most interesting projects you are working on now?
I think one of the most interesting projects I have ever worked on is when Darktrace AI protected customers from stealthy nation state attacks two weeks before the campaign was attributed to Chinese nation-state threat actor known as APT41. Multiple customers were targeted, mainly across the legal sector, across the US and Europe. Darktrace AI detected, investigated and contained the threat. It is fascinating that the technology can successfully do this, autonomously, when the threat was completely novel and had never been seen before.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
A5: The management team at Darktrace has been critical in getting me to where I am today. I’m especially grateful to Mike Beck, Darktrace’s Global CISO, for taking a chance on me and recognizing my drive and ambition, even back when I had no background in security or AI. My immediate supervisor, David Mata, has also been incredible supportive over my five years at Darktrace and has both trained me and encouraged me to move outside of my comfort zone and maximize my potential. Since day one at Darktrace, I have felt this palpable energy to achieve things beyond the traditional limits and exceed my own expectations.
What are the 5 things that most excite you about the AI industry? Why?
- The potential for automation of both repetitive and more complex tasks — The most exciting thing about AI, to me, is that it gives people time back. With AI that responds to threats as soon as they appear with surgical precision, as well as writes up reports and does hours of manpower in seconds, security teams have more time to focus on higher-value tasks that require their human expertise.
- The ability to operate 24×7 — AI is always on. It doesn’t sleep, take breaks, or have weekends like we humans do. AI is like having a ‘round the clock employee, watching over your digital environment and never missing a beat.
- The speed of AI and its ability to scale — Self-learning AI is perfectly suited to adapt to fast-changing environments. Unlike humans, who will learn something and slowly evaluate new information to update our learning, AI does this all the time, autonomously, as soon as it’s presented with new information.
- Wide range of applications across multiple industries — The power of AI to help augment humans across a range of sectors, industries and for different use cases is truly limitless.
- Reduction of human error — AI can pinpoint abnormal activity that human teams are unable to detect amid the noise of normal digital activity. It solves more than just a scaling issue: AI uncovers damaging cyber-attacks that humans simply cannot.
All of these qualities of AI, mainly its unique ability to automate and augment security teams, have caused a dramatic impact on the cyber security industry over the last 7 years and I cannot wait to see more possibilities on the horizon be brought into reality. There are no limits.
What is something that concerns you about the AI industry?
AI powered attacks, especially when used by nation states — Geopolitical tensions are already being played out in cyber battles that threaten both private organizations and critical national infrastructure. When AI is added to the mix, these attacks will be waged at an unprecedented speed and scale and will fly under the radar — undetected. Too many organizations are reliant on traditional and legacy security tools, which simply will not be able to keep up with AI-powered attacks.
As you know, there is an ongoing debate between prominent scientists, (personified as a debate between Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg) about whether advanced AI has the future potential to pose a danger to humanity. What is your position about this?
I think that these concerns and questions are important to consider, even though we are a long way off from this eventuality. There should be tighter regulations on the use of AI as we continue to develop more complex applications of the technology, however what really concerns me in the shorter term is the increasing potential for AI to be used in AI-powered attacks. The majority of business and security executives are concerned about this eventuality — offensive AI attacks will operate at machine speed, and will autonomously adapt themselves to their environment, making them almost undetectable by traditional security tools. We need to be preparing today.
What can be done to prevent such concerns from materializing? And what can be done to assure the public that there is nothing to be concerned about?
Ultimately, the threats posed by offensive AI can only really be countered by the use of equally sophisticated defensive AI technologies. We need a true partnership between humans and AI, combining the strengths of each to manage an evolving threat landscape. Self-learning, defensive AI technology which can fight back autonomously is our key partner in this fight.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story?
As a cyber security professional, my work has implications across industries, businesses, within our national and industrial infrastructure and beyond. Cyber security is a societal issue, and an existential threat to so many organizations — no business is immune to cyber-attack. With this in mind, I am privileged to be a part of the solution in my role at Darktrace, meeting the challenges of this new era of attack with autonomous cyber AI. As a woman in this space, I hope I can serve as an example to other women who are hoping to get involved in security or AI.
As you know, there are not that many women in your industry. Can you share 3 things that you would you advise to other women in the AI space to thrive?
I would encourage other women to find a support network in their industry, whether this is a professional organization or an informal group of peers. I also encourage others to challenge themselves, you’ll often be surprised by what you are capable of! (I used to hate public speaking until I agreed to speak at an event, now I do it frequently!). Along with that, don’t be afraid to ask — for a pay raise, a new opportunity, or even to ask for help.
Can you advise what is needed to engage more women into the AI industry?
At Darktrace, we support several STEM initiatives, but our core driving principle is innovating and defying the status quo — so we hire women regardless of educational background and train them in house to understand and meet the cyber security challenges of the day. Our founders and executives from our female CEO and CFO, down to our technical analysts, are women who looked back and pulled more women up with them, and as a result over a third of our workforce is comprised of women. I have never felt like an outsider at Darktrace, and I feel grateful for where I’ve landed, and for the opportunity to work with so many people of different backgrounds and gender identities.
What is your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that had relevance to your own life?
The A.A. Milne quote “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think” has always stuck out to me. We all experience feelings of self-doubt from time to time, I especially have while starting a new career in security, but I believe that we’re all capable of things that would surprise us. I’ve found that through taking on new challenges I’ve discovered new skills such as public speaking, and new passions as well! This quote reminds me to push through any feelings of doubt and to challenge myself.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would like to see more people truly listen to each other, especially those who have different cultures, backgrounds, or identities than our own. When we actively listen without planning our responses in our head or shutting down and becoming defensive, we can increase our understanding of the struggles and experiences of others. From that understanding comes compassion, and from there we can work to enact positive change in the world around us. Change starts small in our everyday lives and I believe listening is the first step.
How can our readers follow you on social media?