Stronger Together:

Meet Katherine Helenek, DFIR Director

Tetra Defense values a well-rounded approach when it comes to cybersecurity. Preparing for cyberattacks, strengthening defenses, and responding to incidents are all important separately, but they are far more effective when combined. To that effect, we learn from Katherine Helenek, Digital Forensics and Incident Response (DFIR) Director, as she describes her path from the forensic science world.

“The willingness to participate, the sharing of knowledge, and collaboration with a team will keep you from being alone on an island — and make you a better investigator.”

How did your career begin?

From a young age, I had always been interested in forensic science. My family had a shared interest in true crime, and I even remember lengthy conversations about crimes and mysteries and how we’d solve them at our dinner table growing up. We would go over logical sequences of events, what evidence could be gathered, and what science could be applied. Since then, I have always enjoyed the logic behind forensic science, and eventually pursued a degree in Biochemistry. It wasn’t until grad school that I was introduced to digital forensics. Since that second day in the computer lab as a grad student, I knew this was the field where I wanted to stay.

What first piqued your interest in cybersecurity?

Once I earned my Biochemistry degree, I thought I’d end up performing fiber analysis or toxicology. By complete happenstance, when I went to grad school the chemistry lab assistant positions were filled, but there was an opening in the computer lab. Classic example of “right place, right time.” I admit I wasn’t the most tech-savvy at the time, but the opportunity allowed me to learn technical skills little by little, and after a few months I had a knowledge base to rely on and it was off to the races. By the end of my time in grad school, I had written a book on social media investigation that provided law enforcement with a manual for how to define, apply, and find evidence from social media. Then, I started my career working cases which dealt with intellectual property theft. At Tetra, I can fully incorporate my knowledge base of forensics, litigation, and security to gain a deeper understanding of how these cases evolve over time.

What brought you to Tetra Defense?

I find Tetra similar to my grad school experience in that our work here becomes more and more relevant and encompassing every day. Cybersecurity isn’t going anywhere, it’s only becoming more of a priority, and it continues to change daily. There are so many avenues and hubs that relate to this field, and I found that my forensics background was a great foundation for the cyber skills that I continue to learn. Tetra allows me to leverage the skills I currently have, while continuing to learn from the latest technical pieces that come to light every day.

How does your team interact in relation to others?

We have a lot of different “houses” within Tetra, but we also have a wide variety of knowledge and experience across them. Being able to collaborate effectively has been key for our team, but also across all departments since that makes for better responses, better content, and better learning for us and our clients. I see us as inter-connected pieces who can help each other whether we do software development, cyber risk management, or digital forensics and incident response.

Any advice for aspiring cybersecurity professionals?

Try to stay up-to-date on current events and what’s going on in the field. There are a lot of free resources from great people in the community that create blogs, podcasts, even YouTube videos with either stories from their experiences or new trends they see coming down the line. Sharing knowledge within the field is usually encouraged via free tools and resources. For students in a similar position as I was when “switching” to digital forensics, be sure to stay aware of what ends up drawing you in. Oftentimes you need to make your own career happen since there are many avenues that lead to cybersecurity, so stay open to new opportunities and pursue whatever sticks.

A non-work related question: How do you like to spend your free time?

Ask anyone, I’ve never been the person to always have the latest tech or spend too much of my time outside of work in front of a screen. I actually don’t even have a non-work computer at the moment, so I really only watch TV as my “screen” time. Other than that, I spend my time exercising by running the trails, riding my bike, lifting, and I still enjoy reading about true crime.

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