Cybersecurity is a rapidly growing field and there are myriad reasons to pursue it, according to Umang Handa, MEng 09. His own raison d’être? To improve the world by providing better protection.
“To students who are considering the field, ask yourself why,” says Handa. “If the answer is that it feels right in your heart, then do it — but don’t just pursue it because it’s a hot field right now. We’re trying to make the connected world a better, safer place.”
Handa was recently named a partner in cybersecurity at PwC Canada, after more than a decade of designing and implementing next-generation cybersecurity analytics and operations centres (NG-SOC) around the world. The alum of Concordia’s Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science spent his busiest and most challenging year to date protecting large global organizations and government agencies from cybercriminals who were trying to profit from the global health pandemic in 2020.
“Across many different organizations, threat actors were trying to profit from cybercrime by leveraging the control gaps caused by people working remotely, and criminals increased the velocity of their activity,” he says.
“Attacks were coming fast and furious — they still are — and I would say that the pandemic has led to threat activity increasing by manyfold: I call it a cyberpandemic.”
The Concordia advantage
The skills and knowledge Handa applies to his current role at PwC is the result of working in 12 countries over nine years. “It was a choice that I had to make; the way I coped was by taking breaks and spending time with loved ones,” Handa explains. “But the exposure I got helped me gain a much broader perspective about the field itself and also about how cybercrime is dealt with and how business is conducted in various parts of the world.”
Handa also maintains that his skill set traces back to his master’s courses at Concordia. He enrolled to build on his Bachelor of Engineering, Electronics and Communication from NorthCap University in Gurgaon, India, in addition to work experience at Microland in Bangalore and HCL technologies in New Delhi.
“Back in 2006, I couldn’t find many Canadian universities that offered the Information Systems Security program, and Concordia was one of the only few that had taken the leap, which speaks a lot to the wave that they saw coming,” Handa says.
“The type of education that was imparted was heavy on projects, teamwork and on solving real-world problems, which really helped me develop my technical acumen, team building and communication skills.”
During his Concordia studies, Handa worked at CA Technologies as a software robotic process automation and security engineer, so he opted for night courses for his master’s.
“I was able to work full-time and study full-time. The university gave me that flexibility,” he adds.
Earning global recognition for his work and innovation, Handa was nominated for Ascend Canada’s Innovator of the Year Award in 2018 by Deloitte, while employed there.
Handa joined the company in 2009, right after graduating from Concordia. Though he was based in Toronto, he spent most of his time meeting clients around the world, helping them to develop innovative methods in artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and analytics to better detect cyber incidents, as well as to optimize their security operations centres.
Prior to joining PwC in 2019 as a director of cyber analytics, Handa spearheaded the development of a global strategic cyber threat framework that was used by some of the largest Fortune 500 companies in the world.
In addition to his formal education, Handa holds Certified Data Privacy Solutions Engineer (CDPSE), CISSP and Six Sigma Green Belt certifications. He also has his Canadian government security clearance.
“There is no question that the field of cybersecurity will keep growing,” he says. “With the advancements related to 5G, AI, cloud and quantum computing, cyber threats will continue to keep us very busy.
“The next wave of defeating cybercrime should be results-based and that’s what I’m focused on: delivering an outcome-driven, cyber resilient capability to organizations so that they can focus on what matters most to them, which is reaching their organizational and business objectives.”