Cybercrimes are increasing day by day. But organizations and financial institutions need to be a step ahead of hackers and criminals in order to protect their customers.

Anupama Mukundhan, our next pathbreaker, Digital Forensics & Incident Response Analyst, helps legal authorities and corporate companies in solving cybercrimes by analysing digital media to gain evidence, as well as investigating incidents like a ransomware attack, hacking, malware attack.

Anupama talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about giving up an IT job to pursue post-graduation in Cyber Forensics at CDAC, and following her dream of being a part of criminal investigations.

For students, always weigh your short-term benefits against your real aspirations and you will know how to proceed on a long and difficult, but immensely fulfilling journey !

Anupama, tell us about your background?

I am Anupama from Kerala. I am currently working as a Digital Forensics Lead in a Gurgaon based company called Cipher Managed security services. I was born and brought up in Thrissur, Kerala. I did my bachelors degree in Computer Science Engineering from Calicut university and was initially placed in Oracle as a Software Engineer. Though I declined the offer in order to pursue my post-graduation, i I was really not sure about what stream to pursue. During that time I learned about the M.Tech Course in Cyber Forensics and Information Security which really captured my mind. Since my childhood, I have been a big fan of crime thriller movies and books and I really wanted to be a part of an investigation team. That was a golden opportunity for me which led me to join the course. That was a milestone in my life. I completed my post-graduation in 2014 and did a one-year internship on real cybercrime cases which motivated me to be a part of real investigations. 

What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and uncommon career?

I think my interest in crime thrillers really motivated me to choose this career. I did my post-graduation in Cyber Forensics and Information Security at C-DAC: Centre for Development of Advanced Computing. And of course, my teachers during my M.tech course motivated me a lot. Actually, they were not teachers but actually scientists who allotted their time for us, which, I would say, was a god’s gift to us. Though they were extremely knowledgeable, they were very down to earth. 

CDAC is not a college, it is a Research and Development organisation where cyber forensics tools are developed. The Resource centre for cyber forensics develops forensics tools and helps legal authorities with forensics analysis. 

This course provides an overall idea about forensics procedures and analysis during the first year of the course while the second year is fully allocated for projects where we need to work on development of forensics tools under the guidance of RCCF scientists.

During my tenure as a student and an intern , I learned the basics of cyber forensics methodologies, tools and analysis.

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path

Actually, I don’t have a long story about my plans. My internship was a compulsory internship as a part of my mtech degree. I did my internship through CDAC, Thiruvananthapuram, where I studied M.Tech. I actually got a chance to work with my lecturers.  That was a great experience where I actually experienced real forensic cases and worked with expensive forensic tools. 

After that, I was clear about my career and future plans. The only challenge was to get an entry into the field. But thanks to Linkedin and my network, I got a job within two months. From there onwards I have been working in the same field, solving a variety of cybercrimes.

How did you get your first break? 

My first break was through Linkedin. I was searching for a job using Linkedin, where i met Lt. Col Bryan Miranda who gave me an opportunity in the real world of cyber investigations.

What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?

The first job was quite challenging because the location was Delhi and I wasn’t really fluent in Hindi which was a major issue when I started. But later on, I managed to learn Hindi and got adjusted to Delhi. Job wise, my boss was really supportive and explained everything in detail. So, Job wise, I was really happy and my first case was a criminal case, in which the suspect carried out some serious financial transaction and fraudulent activities. The investigation was interesting and completed with a satisfied client. 

Where do you work now? What problems do you solve?

I am currently working with the same management. We have branches in Gurgaon and Dubai. 

I am a DFIR (Digital forensic and Incident response) analyst now.  I help legal authorities and corporate companies in solving cybercrimes. I am the lead of digital investigations in which we analyse digital media like computers, mobile phones, pen drives etc to gain evidence to solve cybercrimes. During criminal investigations like murder, I have to find evidence of location history, the motive of the murder or any links related to the murder. During corporate investigations, I handle cases where the employee left the company after stealing confidential data and hacking into the company’s network. 

Along with this, we also investigate incidents like a ransomware attack, hacking, malware attack etc. Ransomware is malicious software that infects your computer and displays messages demanding a fee to be paid in order for your system to work again

This is a job that requires patience and enthusiasm because you may have to continuously work for 2-3 days to solve a case for which you really need patience and enthusiasm. 

I learnt the technical skills in my M.tech and practice made me a good fit for the role. 

The most important thing is that this is not an 8-hour job and if the situation demands, you have to be available even during the night.

I love this job because this is my passion, not a job. I literally feel satisfied after successful completion of each case. 

How does your work benefit society?

Cybercrimes are increasing day by day. Tracing out the culprits is tedious. I am helping corporate companies and legal authorities to trace culprits. So, I am trying to help society by identifying criminals.

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

We have been working on different types of cases like digital forensics investigations, cyberthreat hunting and Incident response etc.  The incident response is a critical method because the goal is to identify the root cause as soon as possible and mitigate the threat. To be precise, each and every second counts in such a situation. I had come across such a case during my career and it was a ransomware attack. It had just started and I was able to identify the entry point within 10 minutes and we managed to stop the attack. That was an overwhelming moment for me. That is my favourite case till now.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

Be passionate about what you are doing and you will be successful

Future Plans?

To start my own consultant service after 10 years.