Telstra's Asia Pacific CISO Narelle Devine navigates security at Australia's largest telco

Protecting people and systems.

Telstra's Asia Pacific CISO Narelle Devine navigates security at Australia's largest telco

Telstra’s Narelle Devine.

Narelle Devine has always embarked on missions: first, as a principal warfare officer in surface warfare and communications, navigating giant navy warships and protecting the nation for over 23 years, and today, as Telstra’s Asia Pacific chief information security officer (CISO), where she’s navigating from the security helm to protect people and systems.

Indeed, Devine – who’s been awarded a Conspicuous Service Medal in the 2016 Australia Day Honours List for meritorious achievement as the Deputy Director-Cyber (Maritime) in Joint Capability Coordination Division – has already led a colourful life, working and protecting the nation, citizenry and systems during her time in the military, government and now the private sector.

Better still, the significance of her multi-faceted journey isn’t lost on Devine, who asks, “Who would have thought a 17-year-old who joined the Royal Australian Navy would end up protecting the systems of Australia’s largest telco?”

In fact, her actual transition from military to government to private sector has been remarkably smooth sailing, and one that presents certain similarities.

“It was easy for me to jump from military to government because it was just protecting people in a different way,” Devine says.

“Protecting people when you’re in the navy, doing those deployments and doing good for people, was very easily translatable when I moved across to the Department of Human Services, where you’re helping people at their most vulnerable.

“It’s a very rewarding culture.

“And then moving across to Telstra – the goal is very similar: You’re protecting the national telco. It’s one of the most critical systems that the country has, and you need to keep those lights on from a cyber perspective.

“So, I take pride each day when I think about how important that service is to the country and my role in protecting that.”

Today, as the recently appointed APAC CISO, Devine is leading Telstra’s Cyber Security capability – and on a mission to protect the privacy and security of customers, Telstra and the vast services it provides.

“I love our mission. Everything we do impacts the lives of every Australian in some way – whether it’s tackling scam calls and SMS messages, or reducing the delivery of malware via email, or making sure the Telstra network is secure so we can keep Australians connected,” she says.

“My big vision is to transform the way my team embeds security into everything we do at Telstra, and share what we do more broadly, so we can uplift the broader security posture of the Australian community.”

Charting a course in cyber

Looking back, Devine says a “defining moment” helped shape her career – and ultimately landed her at Telstra’s cyber security helm.

Admittedly, working for over two decades as a surface warfare officer specialising in communications with appointments both at sea and ashore in Communications, Electronic Warfare and Cyber Operations, Devine says leaving the navy wasn’t originally part of her game plan.

But “an opportunity to make a real difference in government” arose at the Department of Human Services, now Services Australia.

“I was never seeking to leave the Navy. I loved being in the Navy. But the opportunity to become the CISO at the Department of Human Services was presented to me. To be honest, it was just an opportunity that was too good to turn down. They had really big plans to build their cyber capability,” Devine says.

Immediately after taking the leap, Devine was tasked with delivering the department’s first-ever purpose-built, multi-million-dollar cyber security operations centre.

In completing the mission in record time – just under nine months, Devine says the transformation of the team at Services Australia was a huge accomplishment.

“We went from 25 to 250 people; moved to 24/7 operations and built capability that embraced the non-technical elements of cyber,” she says.

“This was undertaken at time when the skills were not available, and we very much embraced a train-your-own approach.

“As part of that transformation, understanding that engaging across the wider community to get them to understand what the department was responsible for and the importance of the cyber capability was critical in assisting the recruiting effort. It really showed how success is very dependent on a holistic approach, a wide and diverse lens and an element of creativity.”

Certainly, it was one job that Devine says she was happy to ditch her sea legs for – a move back to land that ultimately nixed her persistent sea sickness.

“I got sea sick my entire career, which was quite a unique thing about me. So I wasn’t upset not to go back to sea. I also think it was pretty nice to go to an office in the morning and know that you’re going to be in the same city when you leave that afternoon.”

Asked her lessons learned from building the department’s first-ever cyber security operations centre, Devine says CISOs need to be realistic about change, humble and adaptable – three traits not always achievable.

“You’ll never get to perfect, so in order to make progress, any progress, is going to be good progress in this space. And you need to be constantly changing and adapting. Decisions you make today might be wrong in a couple of days through no fault of their own. The threat changes, the adversity changes, the way that you’re going to deal with it changes. So you need to be quite humble in the way that you approach your decisions,” Devine says.

“Changing your mind is okay, and a really good prerogative in this industry. But it needs to be balanced with the ‘change fatigue’ in your organisation.

“At the department, we changed multiple times over the years and I was buried in form and function. And I’m not apologetic about that at all.

“I think it was really important to keep up with what we could see in the cyber threat landscape.”

CISO role in transition

And then Telstra came calling, Devine recalls. What excites her is the promise of the CISO role, which is becoming more defined and shifting to meet the ever-evolving business and threat landscape.

“From my position, there was no defined pathway. The CISO role was immature in comparison to a doctor or a lawyer. But it really is about collecting the experiences and being able to put them together over time. It’s quite an exciting time for most people to pursue a career in cyber.”

The CISO role, in particular, is starting to solidify. “I have a lovely balance of structure, framework and experience, and also a real agility at Telstra to move and mould and always look for improvements. So, I get the opportunity to shape it as I go to make it better,” she explains.

“I’ve inherited an amazing team. They are exceptional. For a cyber capability in the private sector, I’m not sure I’ve seen anything better. They’ve come to me incredibly well trained, well-disciplined and well structured.”

In fact, Devine loves the variety of the CISO post at Telstra. “It’s a wide-ranging role – from setting the vision of where we want to be in 2025, to fronting the Board and audit risk committee, to having a hand in the operational matters day-to-day, to responding to media queries or even getting involved in complex customer situations.”

Already, Devine says her team is kicking goals and achieving results.

“The team has completed amazing work in blocking DNS, scam SMS and scam phone calls which, knowing the impact to every Australian, I am incredibly proud of.”

Outthink and outsmart

Asked for her thoughts on the ever-evolving threat landscape, Devine says criminals are savvier at accessing personal information and monetising it – and there’s a blurring of the lines as tactics and techniques get more advanced.

“The crossover between stealing your information and stealing money has now blurred,” she says.

“We’re also seeing a lot of sharing of tactics between nation states and criminals themselves.

“The lines are really blurry now, and it doesn’t matter where you are. You can become a target. Everyone is sharing tactics and they’re all after your data or your money.”

At the same time, advancements in behaviours, heuristics, automation and machine learning are helping to combat the threats – and “we’re trying to do as much as we can without having to have eyes on everything.”

“How do we build the systems going forward to naturally be able to learn on their own, and be able to look for those abnormalities that would otherwise be completely hidden? It’s a pretty exciting task moving forward.”

Automation and behavioural analytics are two of the biggest areas of development, and not just for Telstra, but across the cyber domain, she explains.

“Rules-based detection, for example, is quickly becoming unmanageable because of the size and scale of the threats now. It’s an interesting problem to have: You’re trying to outthink those that are still human at the other end of the keyboard, the people doing you harm,” Devine says.

“The uptake in ransomware, and denial of service, is increasing, and we’re seeing such a huge ability for criminals to generate more traffic with amplification.

“The bottom line is these criminals are looking to make money – and there’s a lot of money to be made.

“As the economy moves more into a digital framework, as everybody is online more and more, and as we tie ourselves to that digital footprint, it means it’s more appealing to those who might wish to cause us harm.

Admittedly, the tools needs to change, and so too does the fight and the strategy, she says.

“For us, it’s about having a diverse team – some really curious and creative humans – so that we can outthink and outsmart our adversaries.”

Creating the vision

Her work doesn’t stop there. “My vision is a safe and secure Australian digital landscape so that the next generation – who will rely on the digital economy – are able to maximise the opportunities that a connected world brings,” she says.

Undoubtedly, her vision to “serve and protect and to make a difference” has been the common denominator across all three disciplines and across all jobs – and now in full view at Telstra.

“Like most people, I like to do work that is rewarding – and for me I find that reward in knowing that I am making a difference,” Devine says.

“The ability to do that at such scale is a feeling that is difficult to describe.

“It comes with incredible responsibility – but the personal satisfaction makes it very worthwhile.”

News Related

OTHER NEWS

Australia eyes Christmas overseas travel

Australia’s tourism and trade minister believes international borders will be open in time for Christmas. © Joel Carrett/AAP PHOTOS Tourism Minister Dan Tehan says Australia’s international borders should reopen by ... Read more »

NSW hair salons and tattoo parlours could go bust after lockdowns end

© Provided by Daily Mail MailOnline logo Local hair salons and tattoo parlours across New South Wales fear they could soon go bust due to strict post-lockdown rules.  NSW Health ... Read more »

Reserve Bank says Australia's house prices could pose ‘risk to financial stability'

Australia’s ballooning housing prices – and the associated household debt for mortgage holders – could pose a risk to the economy’s financial stability in the event of a sudden downturn ... Read more »

Morrison launches congressional charm offensive to land subs pact

© AP Prime Minister Scott Morrison and US President Joe Biden held their first bilateral meeting in New York. Prime Minister Scott Morrison will go on a bipartisan charm offensive ... Read more »

Explainer: Exactly what happened in Melbourne yesterday, and why.

On Wednesday morning, Victoria’s Police Minister Lisa Neville warned that police were ready to respond should protestors take to the locked-down city’s streets yet again. © Getty Images Explainer: Exactly ... Read more »

Scientists say quake probably caused by tectonic pressure from NZ

© Getty Buildings along Chapel Street in Melbourne were damaged in Wednesday’s earthquake. The earthquake that hit Victoria on Wednesday morning is probably the result of tectonic plate pressure in ... Read more »

Mob makes way to Vic Shrine of Remembrance

A mob that has spent days rioting in the Melbourne CBD has made its way to the Shrine of Remembrance, surrounded by armed riot police. © James Ross/AAP PHOTOS Protesters ... Read more »

WA pair smash tons against SA in one-dayer

Western Australia’s Josh Philippe and Mitch Marsh have smashed centuries against South Australia in the domestic one-day cup opener. © Richard Wainwright/AAP PHOTOS Josh Philippe was one of two centurions ... Read more »

Voss to meet Blues about AFL coaching job

Michael Voss has touched down in Melbourne as the Brisbane Lions legend closes in becoming Carlton’s new AFL coach. © Julian Smith/AAP PHOTOS Michael Voss is the warm favourite to ... Read more »

Rare spring snow forecast for Tasmania

Rare low-level springtime snow is forecast to fall in Tasmania towards the end of the week, with some likely to settle in the hills above Hobart. © Andrew Drummond/AAP PHOTOS ... Read more »

Clive Palmer company Waratah Coal's coal project awaiting Barcaldine Regional Council decision

© Provided by ABC Business The proposed power plant would be built 30km from the town of Alpha. (ABC News: Chris Gillette) Clive Palmer’s company Waratah Coal is quietly seeking ... Read more »

Policy must drive jobless rate down: RBA

A Reserve Bank of Australia official has again stressed the central bank won’t be jacking up interest rates to cool a heated housing market. © Daniel Pockett/AAP PHOTOS The Reserve ... Read more »

Sidoti corruption probe to resume hearings

The NSW corruption watchdog is reopening public hearings into allegations former Berejiklian government minister John Sidoti failed to disclose property interests and misused his position as an MP. © Dean Lewins/AAP ... Read more »

Push for widespread rapid antigen tests

Australia is being urged to adopt widespread rapid screening to pick up fully vaccinated coronavirus carriers without symptoms who could unknowingly transmit the disease. © Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS Canberra recorded ... Read more »

Covid-positive woman who sparked Byron Bay lockdown now faces charges

© Provided by Daily Mail MailOnline logo A Sydney woman who travelled to Byron Bay to work on the reality TV show ‘I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of ... Read more »

Walgett community COVID-19 scare prompts team effort in vaccine uptake

The New South Wales town of Walgett is facing an anxious time amid dozens of active COVID-19 cases in an already vulnerable area. The vaccine rollout in the largely Aboriginal ... Read more »

Dan Andrews wants mandatory jabs for ANOTHER group of workers

© Provided by Daily Mail MailOnline logo Dan Andrews’ government is preparing to mandate Covid-19 vaccines for teachers and early-childhood educators – just days after rolling out the measure across ... Read more »

Map that lays Australia's history of earthquakes bare

A 5.8 magnitude earthquake that struck east Victoria today is not the first, or most destructive, to strike Australia. Geoscience Australia said the country is relatively safe from quakes as ... Read more »

Harvey joins Hawthorn AFL coaching panel

Former Collingwood AFL caretaker coach Robert Harvey has joined Hawthorn, where he will serve as part of a new-look panel under Sam Mitchell. © Daniel Pockett/AAP PHOTOS Robert Harvey has ... Read more »

COVID exposure at Top Top warehouse leaves some regional areas short of bread

Supermarkets across regional Victoria have reported missing deliveries of bread as a result of a COVID exposure site at a major Melbourne bread warehouse.   Tip Top’s warehouse was attended by a ... Read more »

‘Everyone was nervous': Victoria avoids serious damage after major earthquake rocks Melbourne

Victoria appears to have escaped widespread damage and no injuries have yet been reported after a major earthquake shook Melbourne. © Provided by The Guardian Photograph: James Ross/AAP Geoscience Australia ... Read more »

Keating attacks Labor over China relations

Former prime minister Paul Keating has insisted China does not present a military threat against Australia in a strident criticism of a pact with the UK and US. © David ... Read more »

Canberra records 17 new coronavirus cases

Canberra has recorded 17 new coronavirus infections, nine of which can be linked to known sources. © Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS Canberra has recorded 17 new cases of coronavirus. Just one ... Read more »

ACT records 17 new cases of COVID-19, number infectious in the community 'of concern'

© Provided by ABC Health The ACT government yesterday announced additional funding for mental health support, more than five weeks into its lockdown. (ABC News: Ian Cutmore) The ACT has ... Read more »

Victorian town of Mansfield shaken by three earthquakes, with reports of damage to some buildings

© Provided by ABC NEWS The Victorian town of Mansfield after the earthquake hit near the town. (Supplied: Chris McConnell) Victoria’s State Emergency Service says there has been damage to some buildings ... Read more »

SA Ombusdman Wayne Lines refers state Liberal Party's use of NationBuilder to Office of Public Integrity

© Provided by ABC NEWS A South Australian Government website being redirected through the NationalBuilder website. (ABC News) The South Australian Liberal Party’s use of campaign software NationBuilder has been ... Read more »

Largest quake in Vic's recorded history

The largest earthquake in Victoria’s history has damaged buildings and the tremors were felt across Melbourne and as far away as Canberra, Sydney and Adelaide. © James Ross/AAP PHOTOS The ... Read more »

SA corruption watchdog lashes changes

Proposed changes to South Australia’s corruption watchdog would dismantle the office and rob the public of an efficient integrity agency, a state parliamentary committee has been told. © Morgan Sette/AAP ... Read more »

Queensland Premier demands an apology from Health Minister

© Getty In recent weeks, Palaszczuk raised the issue of when children would be vaccinated and questioned how they would be affected by changes to border restrictions. Queensland Premier Annastacia ... Read more »

Australia and US aiming for ‘same place' on climate, Morrison insists after Biden meeting

Scott Morrison insists Australia and the US are on the same page on climate policy after his first one-on-one meeting with Joe Biden, as the US president presses “every nation” ... Read more »

Riot police on Melbourne streets to prevent third day of protests

Police have turned out in force outside the CFMEU office in Melbourne on Wednesday to prevent a third day of protests in the city. © Provided by The Guardian Photograph: ... Read more »

Community sport could restart VERY soon in NSW

© Provided by Daily Mail MailOnline logo The NSW construction industry will return to full capacity from next week as the state’s vaccination coverage continues to grow, with hope community ... Read more »

NSW records 1035 new COVD-19 cases and five further deaths

© Brook Mitchell/Getty Police in Sydney are on alert for potential protests following violent clashes in Melbourne. New South Wales has recorded 1035 new local cases of coronavirus and five ... Read more »

Magnitude 6.0 earthquake in Victoria rocks south-east Australia

An earthquake has rocked south-east Australia, with reports of tremors being felt from Melbourne to Wagga Wagga. Geoscience Australia said the magnitude 6.0 earthquake was centred in the Mansfield region, ... Read more »

Senior Queensland police officer 'disappointed' by allegations officer snuck daughter over NSW border

© Provided by ABC Health Acting Chief Superintendent Rhys Wildman described the alleged border breach involved a senior officer as “extremely disappointing”. (ABC News: Kimberley Bernard) A senior Queensland police officer ... Read more »

NSW records 1035 new local COVID-19 cases

NSW has reported 1035 new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 and five deaths as double-dose vaccination coverage approaches 55 per cent. © Jason O’BRIEN/AAP PHOTOS NSW has recorded 1035 new ... Read more »

Buildings damaged as earthquake strikes east of Melbourne

An earthquake has struck Victoria, causing damage to buildings across Melbourne. A number of witnesses filmed tremors and damage across Melbourne after a 6.0 magnitude earthquake was recorded in Victoria. ... Read more »

Cairns police probe 'suspicious' death at shopping centre

Queensland Police are investigating the suspicious death of a 35-year-old man at Cairns Central shopping centre this morning. One person is in custody and police are now working to establish ... Read more »

Queensland records one new case of COVID-19

Queensland has recorded one new local case of COVID-19. Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the case was no cause for concern as they had been in home quarantine and were part ... Read more »

Serious delays expected as NSW train drivers plan to strike for hours

© Provided by Daily Mail MailOnline logo NSW train drivers will strike next week as part of an industrial campaign over pay and conditions. The strike on Tuesday, October 5, ... Read more »