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Wiem Tounsi, a cybersecurity researcher

Wiem Tounsi is specialized in cybersecurity research and innovation.  

An exemplary career 

After reading an article on artificial intelligence, Wiem Tounsia Senior Security Consultant at Orange Cyberdefense, decided to study computer science. “I was fascinated by the idea that we could artificially recreate human intelligence,” she explains. In 2002, the young woman enrolled at the National Institute of Applied Sciences of Tunis (INSA-T). Her first years of study fascinated her. In her third year, she specialized in computer networks and was part of the class that created the Securinets Club, now an association, which, as its name indicates, promotes cybersecurity. 

In 2007, after graduating from INSA-T, she joined the prestigious Ecole Polytechnique. “It was the logical next step. I remember it very well, even if the teaching was very structured and quite theoretical,” she recalls. Wiem did her last internship at the Paris 6 computer science laboratory at the Sorbonne University, in research and development. A revelation: research became the keyword of her career. 

An early career marked by research and teaching 

Pursuing her academic in a Ph.D. specializing in cybersecurity, Wiem devotes her thesis to the security of RFID chips[1] and the protection of patients privacy equipped with them. “Passive RFID chips are so minimalist that it is tough to build protections into them. I worked on creating a security protocol that was intended to secure the chip’s communications with other devices,” Wiem explains. She demonstrated her project’s feasibility in a proof of concept[2], which was published in several articles and scientific journals. “From there, you have to defend your idea at conferences to get it validated by the community,” she explains. In France, Luxembourg, the United States, and Canada, Wiem travels to compare her concept with other specialists’ views. “The idea must make its way. Other researchers are building on the protocol I created. The goal is to have it integrated into existing standards,” she adds. 

When Wiem says path, it’s almost literal. Her work on RFID chips takes her to China, where she collaborates for several months with researchers worldwide in Shanghai, Beijing, and Nanjing. 

In parallel with her thesis, Wiem became a teacher at the Sorbonne University in France. In particular, she taught a module dedicated to computer security. “I was almost the same age as the students, which taught me to adopt a different posture. I loved teaching, even though I saw myself more as a researcher than a teacher,” she says. 

From the academic world to the private sector 

Her research work – still at Sorbonne University – leads Wiem to work for private sector companies. “Researching an academic setting means not knowing how our ideas will be applied. In the private sector, researchers have an applicative and concrete vision. We see the results for ourselves. I liked that,” she explains. 

In 2015, Wiem joined Axians Cybersecurity, the VINCI Energies group’s cybersecurity subsidiary, initially as a scientist. After a year, she was promoted to head of the entity’s R&D division. She says: “Young researchers are not managers, but at the same time, they are not beginners when they join a private company. It’s not unusual for them to be promoted quickly. As a team leader, she works on Threat IntelligenceManaged Services and is in charge of one of the CERT’s services[3]. “Working in a company was very different from what I had experienced before. The requirements are different when dealing with clients: you have to advise them based on their environments. In research, we work with an immense field of possibilities, almost without limits. Here, we have to work with what already exists, which is a real challenge,” says Wiem. 

Despite her busy schedule, she continues her research work and gives lectures in Singapore and Lebanon. “It was the condition sine qua non for joining them; I will fight all my career to do research,” she says. 

Security Consultant at Orange Cyberdefense 

In July 2019, Wiem joined Orange Cyberdefense as an expert consultant. Upon her arrival, she successfully defended a research and innovation project: creating deception mechanisms (deception security). This involves positioning digital baits and lures within an information system in production to divert a cybercriminal from his target, diverting him to false assets. The ultimate goal is to dissuade him from carrying out his attack. “This technique allows us to understand the tactics and procedures of attackers and to detect attacks as early as possible,” explains Wiem. 

Innovative topics such as deception security are often cross-functional. Wiem collaborates with several Orange Cyberdefense experts in France and Belgium. She is assisted by the integration teams, the epidemiology laboratory, and the CERT (Computer Emergency Response Team). Wiem also works with the Orange Labsthe Orange International Network Infrastructure and Services (OINIS) team, which is part of Orange Business Services. “I appreciate this transversality because I am in contact with several teams, with different specialties. I discover other contexts. It’s gratifying,” she says. A success: the project was rewarded internally with an award. 

In addition to working in research and innovation, Wiem conducts safety audits, crisis management exercises and accompanies pre-sales engineers to future clients. A mission she loves: “Even when I was a student, I loved this part of the job. At the time, I was looking for sponsors for our association; I had to make them aware of cybersecurity and convince them. 

Indeed, awareness is an area in which she is mainly involved. While in charge of Axians, Wiem coordinated and co-authored, with former ITM colleagues, a book entitled Cyber vigilance and Digital Trust, which addresses recent advances in Threat intelligence, trust management, and risk analysis to the leakage of sensitive data from mobiles.  

What does she enjoy most about being a consultant? “Developing her expertise and contributing her ideas to current advances.” And the future? “Always in innovation.” And why not, one day, become an entrepreneur. “But for now, I’m focusing on my work and research,” she concludes. 

To discover the book coordinated by Wiem, we invite you to click here. 

Notes 

[1]Radio frequency identification 

[2]Proof of Concept, POC 

[3]Computer Emergency Response Team 

 

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