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Introducing Our First Top Level Defender—Olga Jilani

Tim Helming and Kelsey LaBelle interviewed Olga and discussed her career path, recommended resources, inspirations, and more. This episode is included at the bottom of this post.

Introducing the Top Level Defender (TLD) Contest

There’s no eloquent, elegant, or groundbreaking way to express how challenging and painful this year has been. Ransomware groups have attacked hospitals and healthcare institutions, unemployment has skyrocketed, the US had a stressful election cycle, and most importantly many have lost loved ones. All the while, defenders have been treading water and trying to outpace the ever-evolving and expanding attack surfaces that come with remote work.

My own “glass half full,” or B positive blood type optimism, has seen and experienced the extraordinary gift of community this year. Sure there have been many tears, moments of distress, even anger. But above all, I’ve witnessed an industry dead set on staying a step ahead of those intent on throwing buckets of nails across the information superhighway. Some might even call this response therapeutic.

In response to the courage demonstrated by defenders, many of us at DomainTools wanted to find a meaningful way to say thank you. And as noted on our contest page, although we can’t sunset JavaScript, disable macros, or remind folks to use unique passwords, we can invest in you. So that is what we set out to do.

We asked for folks to nominate a member of the infosecurity community that inspires them, and in return, we promised to pay for the winner of the TLD contest’s SANS FOR578 course—as well as feature them on our blog, interview them on our podcast, and send them some fun goodies.

Choosing our Top Level Defender

The response from the community to this contest was astounding. Tim Helming, Ariella Robison, and I spent some quality time together reading and digesting your thoughtful and powerful nominations. Frankly, it was one of the most uplifting and inspiring activities I’ve participated in this holiday season. Nominations highlighted the resiliency, selflessness, and impact of defenders. On the flip side, this made our decision-making process incredibly difficult. A few things we took into consideration when selecting our winner were:

  • The impact the individual had on the greater community
  • How the SANS FOR578 might accelerate their professional learning and growth
  • The likelihood of the winner disseminating and sharing learnings from their SANS experience

Honorable Mentions

As aforementioned, choosing one Top Level Defender was extremely difficult. I’m pleased to include five individuals who are more than deserving of validation for the work they do for the infosecurity community. Each one of these individuals has gone above and beyond to make the cybersecurity community and internet a safer place:

  1. Alissa Gilbert
  2. Andrea Kim
  3. Jerrid Byrd
  4. Mary Zhao
  5. Mauricio Maranho

Announcing Our Winner—Olga Jilani

Let’s start with a brief introduction to Olga Jilani. Olga has a Bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering technology and a Master’s degree in computer engineering management. What knocked my socks off during her podcast interview for Breaking Badness is how Olga has transferred her protective instincts as a mother to defend networks.

Top Level Defender Olga Jilani

Here are just a few—of the many—reasons Olga’s nomination caught our eye:

  • We loved the story of her self-directed path into the field. It is an inspiration, as you’ll hear, to anyone looking to join this field.
  • Her dedication to teaching, sharing, and paying it forward to other members of the community is commendable.
  • Her hands-on contributions to making the Internet a safer place, through her work today with reverse engineering, detection engineering, and the like, are what we believe a Top Level Defender really exemplifies

Some helpful advice I’d like to highlight that Olga provided during her interview: never hesitate to ask questions. There is no such thing as a stupid question, full stop. This, in my humble opinion, breeds a culture ripe with collaboration, trust, and vulnerability. Most importantly, the more we share, the safer the internet will be.  

What’s Next for the TLD Contest?

This is the first time we’ve run this contest, and although it was heartwarming and we received countless nominations, we certainly see lots of room for improvement in how we operated it. The good news is that we are aiming to run this contest at least twice more in 2021, and ideally twice a year in perpetuity. So we have an opportunity to take what we learned and apply it to our next contest early next year.  

One major limitation to our contest was that it was exclusively open to US residents, by law. I want to personally thank Jones Baraza for highlighting a major miss to ensure a more inclusive contest. Our team is looking into ways we can allocate legal resources to comply with all of the various laws and regulations that govern online contests, to allow us to open future ones up to folks around the world. I’m including this in our blog as a way to hold our team accountable to holding true to our promise.

Top Level Defender Tweet

International Honorable Mention

Additionally, I’d like to highlight Dr. Bright Gameli Mawudor, who had multiple nominations. A few words about Dr. Bright:

Dr. Bright Gameli Mawudor is the head Managed Cyber Security Services at Dimension Data East Africa and founder of the Cyber Security collective Africahackon, the first ever Live demonstration Cyber Security Conference in East and Central Africa. He acquired a PhD in IT Convergence and Application Engineering with concentration in Information Security from Pukyong National University, South Korea. He was also Top 40 Under 40 2016 of young entrepreneurs in Kenya and worked with world class organizations such as Cellulant and Ushahidi.

Thank you, Dr. Bright, for your dedication to making the internet a safer place and for your efforts in the infosecurity community.


Thank you for your participation in this year’s Top Level Defender contest. I appreciate you taking the time to nominate and shed light on defenders that put their blood, sweat, and tears into their work.

A fervent belief of mine is that something that sets the infosecurity industry apart is that our success is interdependent. When one of us shares vital intelligence on a threat—or prevents a security event or breach—we all win. Each front line security practitioner and defender plays a critical role in making the internet a safer place, for protecting our loved ones, for educating one another, and for limiting our web-based anxiety.

Tim Helming and Kelsey LaBelle Interview Olga on Breaking Badness: