As of this summer, digital safety has been embedded in Norwegian society. Not only has the legislation been amended, but the curriculum of schools now includes it as an integral part. This is all thanks in part to Mia Landsem. She used to be a semi-professional gamer, then unwittingly found her nude photos online, and has now been advocating for justice for victims of online sexual abuse for years. With success.
Mia Landsem is an ethical hacker and pentester at Orange Cyberdefense. Orange Cyberdefense is the expert cybersecurity business unit of the Orange Group, providing organizations around the world with managed security, managed threat detection & response services. As Europe's leading security provider, it strives for a safer digital society. Landsem didn’t take the obvious road into cybersecurity. “I have always loved technology, but I really wanted to be a police officer when I grew up.” Games had her interest from a very young age, and she was really good at it. Actually, so good that she landed her own gaming TV Show in 2014. “And then a girl at my school got her nude photo leaked on the internet and because I was on TV talking about games, she thought I knew about this stuff and could help.” Landsem was shocked by the event and started researching only to be even more shocked by what she found. “There were so many nude pictures of unaware girls on forums, so I started warning them.”
Little did she know she was about to become one of them herself. “My ex-boyfriend spread a nude photo of me after we broke up. That was when I really understood what those girls were going through. I was angry and tried to remove my picture everywhere, but that it’s hard. Then I suddenly started receiving foul messages via DM and in my mailbox. It got to the point where I could not bear to be around the place I grew up in.” That’s when Mia started her bachelor in sports psychology at the Norwegian School of Sports Sciences.
Landsem tried to report her ex to the police, but she was told that the complaint had expired and the case was “too old” to be reported. “But that was because the police had placed it under harassment, but it should have been filed under sexualizing children.” She got her case reopened and eventually her ex was fined 500 dollars for ruining her life. “That was when I realized how screwed up the rules were, so I started helping other girls report these crimes to the police.” Landsem helped them write their reports, finding evidence and along the way and teaching herself a lot of IT tricks and techniques.
One of the girls she helped was Norwegian handball celebrity Nora Mørk. “Several nude photos of her were shared and I helped get a lot of suspects convicted in that case.” After the media got wind of that, Landsem became a celebrity overnight, doing interviews and TV-appearances. “The next week I received over 1,000 e-mails of people needing help.” She set up a website where people could send in their requests and got busy day and night helping all these victims. Not much later, she quit the School of Sports Sciences and applied at the Noroff School of Technology and Digital Media.
Right before she finished school, she wrote a message to an IT security group in Norway that gathers IT people and shares news asking about the best next step in her career. “My DMs were flooded with messages from people wanting to hire me”, she says. “But I didn’t apply to anything at all. People knew who I was, so I think a lot of them were out to get good publicity. But Orange Cyberdefense wasn’t. They really believed in me and my cause, so that is why I chose them.”
Landsem started working as an ethical hacker and penetration tester. “I did one course in school about hacking, but I didn’t really know much, but Orange believed in me and have helped me learn so much more. That is why I still work here. This is my one-year anniversary at Orange and I still do TV shows and interviews and talks, because they see that this is so important to me.” She finds it important to tell her story to inspire other women to pursue a career in IT or cybersecurity. “There are so many women out there who don’t even know they have the skills or think they won’t fit in this still largely male dominated industry. But, if we all stand together, we can make a change. I can’t wait for a time when it’s equal, when I don’t get asked anymore what it is like to be a female in IT or to give advice only to other women. Men don’t get asked questions in this way”
Keep your knowledge up-to-date
Right now, Landsem is doing the SANS SEC504: Hacker Tools, Techniques, Exploits, and Incident Handling course that will lead up to the GIAC Incident Handler certification. And after her current course, another one awaits: the Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP) certification. “ I will both have a pen tester and incident handler certification. That is a great mix of both sides of cybersecurity, attacker vs. defender, and I think that gives me a great depth of knowledge.” Landsem is eager to keep on learning. “I am a real nerd so I am keen to learn the newest techniques and the very latest in everything else that is going on in my line of work. We have researchers at Orange that will keep us updated on developments in cybersecurity.”
Digital forensics and ethical hacking
In Norway, certifications almost guarantee you a job, Landsem says. “There are a lot of graduate programs, and companies that offer certification programs and self-development programs are most interesting for graduates. I see that amongst our customers too. They want the senior hackers with all the certifications to do their pen tests instead of young and fresh graduates. What they don’t think about, is that the senior hackers have been there for over 30 years and they have a lot of outdated knowledge and old ways of thinking. There is a lot to be gained from the knowledge and experience of digital natives like me.”
She’s not sure if she will ever join the police in her career. “I’ve injured my knee, so that makes it more difficult to be in the physical teams, but you never know. I might eventually end up doing something cyber within the police force.” She would like to combine both digital forensics and ethical hacking. “I wouldn’t want to just do forensics. I enjoy the hunt for evidence because I want to help people, but I don’t just want to be there when something has already happened. I want to help prevent the crime from happening in the first place.”
Continue to support abuse victims
For the coming years, Landsem hopes to get digital safety solidly on the map in Norway. “I’d really like to see developments and new systems put in place to help those who are victims of online abuse in Norway. I’m very passionate about this problem and I would like to work alongside other professionals in the field to help stop image abuse and online child sexual abuse and exploitation. Working together with the police, we could seize a lot more of these websites and forums. I also hope to soon see more women apply to technical universities and pursue a career in IT and cybersecurity. Because we need diversity. It’s crucial.”