Females-In-Tech Spotlight: Kavya Pearlman
When you think about cybersecurity, the image that pops into your mind is likely not an Asian Indian, muslim, entrepreneurial woman. Kavya Pearlman is changing that image. Her twenty years in computer science, cyber security standards, and protective frameworks has blossomed into becoming a treasure for global cybersecurity. Her list of board seats and awards is daunting, and her thirst for current solutions and ethical XR regulations is unwavering. After years at various A-list top tech companies, she founded the XR Safety Initiative two years ago. They focus on advocacy, research, and setting standards in the XR security space. Kavya Pearlman exemplifies a female leader in technology.
Pearlman was born in India and grew up with two brothers and a sister. Rather than her siblings, it was she who was often encouraged by her parents to fix broken electronics and appliances in their home. She would jump in and solve the problem at-hand. Clearly diligent, her friends and family encouraged her to go into biology or medical school. But she wanted to become the Deputy Inspector General (DIG) - a position truly based in ethics. It was this deep “right from wrong” moral compass that would lead her throughout her career.
She graduated with a Bachelor's in Computer Application in India and post-9/11 struggled to get an IT job. Her business language, English, was also not the best back then. And the positions that she landed, like working for call centers, where she managed to shine but her potential was not yet fully realized. She dreamed of coming to the US. Here she would have the freedom to do anything and be anyone without the weight of systematic traditions.
Kavya followed her destiny that she had dreamt of since she was seven years old and in 2007, she moved to the US. Settling into a hairstylist position in Chicago, she earned $10 per hour, and often worked less than 40 hours a week, for five years. It was here that she later vehemently accredits her growth in empathy. Day-in and day-out she would listen and talk with her clients about their lives. She learned about all different walks of life, and adapted to American culture through thousands of conversations with her clients. Then one day, Kavya was cutting a gentleman’s hair when he discussed his work as a security analyst at a bank. He noticed Kavya’s immense curiosity and desire to learn more. Kavya was impressed and intrigued about the knowledge one must possess to do security work. After paying for the cut, he was walking out and advised her to read, “Cyber War” by Richard A Clarke. A couple chapters in and she was hooked.
Sometimes intuition is the best guide. The book connected her deep ethical prudence and love for computers into one space. Kavya knew she wanted to be a cyber security officer. She applied to the top cybersecurity Master programs in the country. DePaul, in Chicago, was at the top of her list.
While at school, Kavya continued to hustle. “The world needs me,” she remembers thinking as she connected her past foundation of ethics, computers, and people. When working an IT admin job to get her through school, she noticed security breaches in the basic systems. She grabbed two colleagues and started to track that data, investigating the traffic, compared and reported it. She built her resume, and kept notching up.
Fast forward or “fail forward” as she encourages her colleagues to keep trying, Kavya now has a diverse and impressive portfolio of cybersecurity jobs. Today, she has been a part of many interventions in our cyber warfares. Kavya remains proud of her consulting work at Facebook in 2016 during the US Presidential Election and Head of Security role for the oldest existing Virtual World, Second Life maker Linden Lab where she was responsible for protecting two virtual world economies and maintaining information security compliance. The lessons from these experiences and sensing the urgency to address issues that impacted the emerging technologies like Virtual Reality (VR) , Augmented Reality ( AR), Mixed Reality ( MR) and more. She saw an imminent need for ethics, standards, when it comes to not just cybersecurity at-large, but specifically, Extended Reality ( XR). XR, the conglomeration of AR, MR, and VR, is the conglomeration of digital interfaces that will become seamless with our real world in the near future. As Kavya says, “We’re moving into a different type of reality. We have to think now about what could go wrong.”
The XR solutions are data mines, by default. These devices and platforms track your gaze, sound, pose, among billions of data points on each human being, wanting to know the psychology of how you perceive things. And the developers are often not thinking how this is going to affect human rights, privacy, freedom and potential impacts on human beings at a psychological level. Along the same lines as The Social Dilemma and The Great Hack, Kavya has spearheaded the life of the Cyber Guardian in silicon valley for years. She’s interested in setting structures to limit the unintended consequences of the data gathering solutions.
One example of how XR solution data gathering might have unintended, but negative consequences she explains on Getting Into InfoSec. Game developers had created a VR platform where players make a digital or augmented life similar to Second Life. But in this game, the player can choose to start from birth, and live as a baby, toddler, etc. When Kavya met the premier developer she asked what the ethical, emotional, or psychology implications were. The developer himself said, “I never thought about it.” Clearly, the industry lacks focus, value, and studies on how XR is mentally and emotionally affecting us. It’s an issue Kavya is now trying to tackle for all of us with her audacious mission of XRSI, i.e.,helping build safe and ethical XR ecosystems.
Incorporating her heavy computer science background, Kavya is well informed about how governments, various big tech firms and their third parties are mis-using data and failing to safeguard individuals' privacy. And She knows users are uninformed about their consent to the terms of agreements. She is a first witness to our privacy reproaching. She appreciates how abuse in AR and VR systems can trigger a lot of real-world trauma. Bullying is a reality in virtual reality. Kavya says simply, “These game developers are not thinking about babies.” … And her further response, “We need to build these technologies ethically.”
That’s why Kavya has founded XR Safety Initiative ( XRSI) They’re a non-profit working on privacy frameworks, developing standards, informing regulators on setting the rules and regulations that make our XR lives secure and the development ethical. Currently working on four pillar programs, Kavya’s team maintain unbiased policies and remain true to their mission - to help safe and ethical XR ecosystems.
Naturally, this is an international, world-renowned challenge. And working alongside partners like the National Cyber Security Lines, medical councils and governments, Kavya and her team are ready for the duty. Especially during and after COVID-19, where layoffs have left IT teams strapped for time and resources. While the world was in disarray in 2020, Kavya launched four XR focused programs for public good, most recently being The Child Safety Initiative by XRSI while making history by introducing the world 2nd week of December as XR Safety Awareness week. All but to create awareness around the risks associated with XR technologies. Kavya has founded The CyberXR Coalition that now focused on diversity and inclusion and the cross section of Cybersecurity and XR, helped launch a trustworthy XR news platform, ReadyHackerOne and establish a Medical XR Advisory Council.
While that seems a lot for an individual to do, she has managed to do so by bringing together interdisciplinary world leaders and brilliant minds that collectively carry out this scientific pursuit and quest to prevent harm to humans. “XRSI Privacy Framework version 1.0, launched this year is a great example, how proactively and collectively, we can solve these emerging challenges ” Kavya says, feeling proud of her advisers, volunteers and co-pilots for navigating these uncharted territories.
We look forward to hearing more from Kavya and XRSI. She might be our Cyber Guardian now, but she is certainly a leader in morality and the Chief-Humanity-Officer amongst thousands of developers in a world where money and control seem too-often to be the solitary goal. And, though still in the middle of her career, Kavya notes how she is living her dream. “I couldn’t be a Deputy Inspector General, so I became a Cyber Security Officer.” She confirms with a smile, “take the leap...anything is possible!”
ABOUT XR SAFETY INITIATIVE:
XR Safety Initiative (XRSI) is a 501(c)(3) worldwide not-for-profit Standards Developing Organization (SDO) that promotes privacy, security, and ethics in immersive environments. XRSI’s mission is to help build safe and inclusive experiences so that XR stakeholders can make informed and pragmatic decisions. XRSI does this by discovering novel cybersecurity, privacy, and ethical risks and proposing potential new solutions to mitigate them. XRSI, being the first such global effort, is uniquely positioned to provide impartial, practical information about XR and Spatial Computing related risks and opportunities to individuals, corporations, universities, government agencies, and other organizations worldwide.
About Kavya Pearlman:
Well known as the “Cyber Guardian,” founder and CEO of the XR Safety Initiative (XRSI), Kavya Pearlman is an award-winning cybersecurity professional with a deep interest in immersive and emerging technologies. She recently launched a novel XRSI Privacy Framework for the XR and Spatial Computing domain. Kavya has previously advised Facebook on third party security risks during the 2016 US presidential elections and worked as the head of security for the oldest virtual world, “Second Life” by Linden Lab. Kavya is one of the Top 50 speakers in the cybersecurity industry and named Top 20 Cybersecurity influencers for three consecutive years 2018-2019-2020 by IFSEC Global. Kavya constantly shares knowledge via webinars, conference talks, and blog posts on topics like Application Security, cloud-native technologies, machine learning, and immersive technologies such as XR. Kavya has won many awards for her work and contribution to the security community including:
Cybersecurity Woman of the Year 2020 by Cybersecurity Excellence Award Series
Cybersecurity Professional of the Year 2020 by Cybersecurity Excellence Award Series
Most Influential Cyber Security Leader 2020 by Acquisition International
40 under 40 Top Business Executives 2019 by San Francisco Business Times
Rising Star of the year 2019 by Women in IT Award Series
CISO Women Security Leader award from Middle East CISO Council
Minority CISO of the Year 2018 by International Consortium of Minorities Cybersecurity Professional (ICMCP)
Kavya holds a master’s degree in network security from DePaul University, Chicago and many prestigious Information Security certifications including CISM (Certified Information Security Manager) from ISACA, and PCIP for Payment Card Industry Security Standard Council.
Kavya is truly passionate about her work and inspires many around the world including women and underrepresented communities in security and emerging technologies. Kavya is a board of directors for EM360, non-profit “Minorities in Cybersecurity,” an advisory board member for CISO Council North America, Spark Mindset LLC, and cybersecurity advisory board member for the University of New Haven.
Kavya’s Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kavya-pearlman
Kavya’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/KavyaPearlman