How Fraud Specialist Danna Pelleg Fights Bad Guys With the Best Team in the Business

January 30, 2019
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5 min read

The security industry is fast-paced, no doubt about it. Those who are called to the profession must be quick-witted, focused, ready to change at any moment and maybe even a little bit fearless. They must also be able to forge strong, trust-filled relationships quickly. Teams who have mastered these skills are on the front lines of cybersecurity threat prevention, defending us from those who want to take everything from us.

Security teams can quickly become like families — thick as thieves and ready for action. And Danna Pelleg, fraud specialist and security operations team lead at IBM Trusteer, wants to make sure her team and those who help support them get all the recognition they deserve.

“We’re all in this together,” she said from her office in Tel Aviv, Israel. “You spend each day, all day with these guys, and it’s important that you have a really good relationship with them. I’m lucky — I really like what I do, all the opportunities I get here, and I also really like the people I work with.”

A State of Constant Change

It’s an environment Danna, her managers and her fellow team leaders have carefully cultivated. Each interviewee for a new role is scrutinized for team fit and skills. These folks are so tight that they hang out after hours and go to each others’ weddings. But that’s the type of relationship you develop when you’re in the trenches together.

“Everything changes so fast in this industry that we need to change what we work on or create something completely new very quickly,” Danna explained. “Our team members must always be open to the option that things are about to change.

“We always want to maintain a high level of service, so we keep developing new solutions and bringing up new ideas and strategies on how to combat fraud while keeping our operations working flawlessly. We’re all very passionate about what we do, otherwise we couldn’t hang on.”

‘I Want to Fight the Bad Guys’

Danna’s passions converge where technology meets psychology — and cybersecurity sits at that crossroads. What makes someone fall for social engineering tricks and become a victim of fraud? And what makes someone else become a fraud actor? Working in cybersecurity allows Danna to explore these issues, and her knack for psychology is oftly handy when it comes to leading her team.

Danna grew up around technology and a family that supported her curiosity. It was a time when not all schools had access to computers, so she felt privileged to play with tech from a young age thanks to her father’s work in the industry.

That curiosity manifested in an early role as a fraud analyst, working with a company that executed takedowns of fraudster sites. When she interviewed for that position — before she was a student, despite it being a student role — the hiring managers asked her why she wanted to work there. Danna’s reply? “I want to fight the bad guys.”

“It really felt like that,” she laughed. “It really felt like you were doing things and defeating bad guys trying to steal money from innocent people. And you could see the significant impact you had: something you handled is now offline.”

Danna continued working once she started her studies in social sciences and psychology — her other passion after technology. She feels blessed to be able to merge her two passions now as the leader of a team that tracks and analyzes fraud activity.

Making the Most of Opportunities

Danna was still a Bachelor of Arts student when she decided to change companies and ended up in the support department at Trusteer, where she stayed after she was promoted to Tier 2 support. At Trusteer Danna learned the art of effective communication, how to guide customers through challenges and how to ask questions to get to the bottom of an issue. She made a name as a phishing prevention expert, so when a major client had a phishing crisis, Danna interviewed for a new role. She was ultimately hired to build a team specifically to sort out the problem.

This particular client was one Trusteer couldn’t afford to lose, and Danna’s team was tasked with creating something completely new and tailored to the issue at hand. The team supported Trusteer’s artificial intelligence (AI) phishing solution to help enhance its efficacy and support daily operations. Ultimately, this led to the formation of her current cybersecurity operations team, which does the work Danna said she is most proud of in her career to date.

“We provide the first line of defense for all types of fraudulent activity,” she said. “The team analyzes potential phishing, they analyze fraud cases and try to reach any conclusions. The best scenario will be to understand what can we do to protect the client — or, if we missed protecting them, how we can catch things next time.”

A Dance of Continuous Improvement

Danna’s team works across products and departments to analyze fraud activity such as phishing, malware and social engineering. The threat intelligence and research group then delivers customer-oriented information to improve cyber awareness and offer insights about new trends in the cybersecurity industry. Sometimes these reports are incredibly detailed, and sometimes they need to be translated into business terms for stakeholders who won’t understand the nitty-gritty.

The vast troves of threat intelligence at Trusteer’s disposal help customers enhance their security. Understandably, customers want to know more, and Danna is determined to deliver them the richest, most up-to-date information available.

“It’s not just about how to protect them using our products; it’s also enriching their intelligence and providing them with the most accurate and up-to-date information” she explained. “We are constantly trying to improve our products and security content so we can stay one step ahead of the bad guys.”

Danna is also determined to continue to cultivate that trusting, helpful, friendly environment they hold so dear in security operations. As she grows to take on more responsibilities, her team’s remit grows, too. Her studies in psychology, her time in support and the example set by her managers all guide Danna’s professional, supportive managerial style.

A Different Way of Thinking

Danna’s longtime interest in phishing prevention and attack analysis still drives her day to day — after all, this attack method is still incredibly prevalent, and it won’t be vanishing any time soon. On the contrary, phishers are getting more and more sophisticated in their attempts. They’re even mimicking the antiphishing warning messages banks have been adding to customer communications.

“We share so much information online today, it’s crazy,” Danna said. “If you are really into making money from fraud, you can connect the dots in all different ways and get the info you need to steal an identity and money. Sharing your phone number and email on your Facebook account might seem harmless, but getting that information is the first step in a social engineering attack — and we publish that information willingly to the public domain.”

The complexity of such social engineering schemes has made Danna and her team “extra suspicious about everything.” Anytime her bank calls her with a new offer, Danna tells them she’ll call them back — just in case.

And when the tough days and cases pull her down, Danna rests easy knowing there’s a dog-friendly policy in her office.

“It’s really calming,” she laughed. “They really help us to be more calm and positive. Although the work is very interesting, sometimes you just need to pet a dog.”

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Security Intelligence Staff

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