Empowering Cybersecurity: The Journey of Simonetta d’Ottaviano

Simonetta d’Ottaviano with Charlotte Slingsby, Co-founder of Nettoken

Simonetta d’Ottaviano, a trailblazer in the realm of personal cybersecurity, currently serves as the co-founder of Nettoken, a London-based startup revolutionizing the way everyday internet users safeguard their digital lives. With a mission to democratize cybersecurity, Simonetta and her team at Nettoken have introduced an innovative password manager designed to bridge the gap for households left vulnerable in the digital age. We at EliteX are proud to introduce Simonetta d’Ottaviano as one of the Impactful Women in Security, 2024.

Simonetta’s journey in the industry began during her studies at the Innovation Design Engineering joint masters program at the Royal College of Art and Imperial College London. Recognizing a significant gap from the consumer’s perspective, she and her colleagues embarked on a mission to create a human-centered, user-friendly solution that seamlessly integrates convenience with security and privacy. This vision culminated in the inception of Nettoken, a digital evolution of their original concept for a contactless authentication device. Driven by a passion for social impact and a desire to tackle common challenges faced by individuals daily, Simonetta found inspiration in the pursuit of a career in security. Viewing personal cybersecurity as a design challenge, she sought to make it less intimidating and more accessible to the general public, particularly the most vulnerable segments of society. With a background in engineering and design, Simonetta and her team embarked on a journey of experimentation, ultimately leading to the development of the Nettoken software platform.

“By valuing individuals for their unique contributions without unnecessary boundaries, Nettoken aims to cultivate an inclusive culture where everyone can thrive.”

One of Simonetta’s significant accomplishments in the field of security lies in the widespread support Nettoken has garnered from esteemed institutions such as the Royal College of Art and the British National Cyber Security Centre. This recognition underscores the significance of their approach, which blends cybersecurity, design, and education to bring concrete solutions to a broader audience. By championing a holistic perspective and advocating for the democratization of personal cybersecurity, Simonetta has sparked a vital conversation within the industry.

Navigating challenges unique to being a woman in the security sector, Simonetta has encountered obstacles, particularly in accessing funding. Despite the industry’s male-dominated landscape, she has forged ahead with unwavering determination, surrounded by supporters who champion her mission and vision for a more inclusive and secure digital future.

Simonetta believes that one of the most pressing security issues facing society today is the exponential growth of digital exposure and the subsequent surge in online threats. With the internet evolving from a small town to a vast planet with no map, individuals face significant challenges in navigating the complexities and dangers of the digital world. This is especially critical for younger users who interact with screens before they can even speak. Given that one in three internet users globally is a child, Simonetta emphasizes the importance of planning for how children enter and operate in the digital realm. She asserts that women’s representation in the security sector is crucial, as diverse perspectives and skills are needed to address these multifaceted challenges effectively.

Reflecting on a tough decision regarding security priorities, Simonetta recounts the pressure faced by startups to quickly launch their products to gain traction. Despite this pressure, Nettoken prioritizes the responsibility of safeguarding user data above all else. Simonetta describes the difficult but necessary decision to undergo a thorough research and development journey before onboarding their first user. This commitment to ensuring the complete architecture and baseline features reflects Nettoken’s unwavering dedication to maintaining trust and security for their users. To stay informed about emerging threats and technologies in the security landscape, Simonetta relies on a network of advisors and security experts, considering them to be the most valuable resource. Additionally, she stays updated by consulting the latest resources available through the RSA community, enabling Nettoken to remain vigilant and proactive in addressing evolving cybersecurity challenges.

“It was a tough but necessary decision to endure a long, lean research and development journey to achieve the complete architecture and baseline features before onboarding our first user.”

Nettoken takes proactive steps to foster diversity and inclusion within the security community. With a small yet international and diverse team in terms of gender and cultural background, Nettoken prioritizes creating a work environment that accommodates a healthy work-life balance and encourages continuous learning and personal growth. By valuing individuals for their unique contributions without unnecessary boundaries, Nettoken aims to cultivate an inclusive culture where everyone can thrive. Moreover, the team actively engages with schools to share their journey and inspire the next generation of cybersecurity professionals, while also collaborating with organizations such as Cyber First to support girls interested in pursuing careers in cybersecurity. Through these efforts, Nettoken demonstrates its commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion within the security community and beyond.

Offering advice to young women aspiring to enter the field of security, Simonetta emphasizes the importance of recognizing the current demand for cybersecurity products designed for diverse audiences. She believes that now is the perfect time to bring a unique perspective to the industry and advocate for tools that can cater to the needs of a wide range of users. Whether one has a background in engineering or not, Simonetta encourages individuals to explore opportunities in cybersecurity, highlighting roles in product design and communications as avenues to contribute to making security accessible to all. By leveraging diverse disciplines, aspiring professionals can play a pivotal role in shaping a safer internet for future generations.

Balancing the demands of her professional life with personal commitments and interests, Simonetta acknowledges the inherent challenges that come with being a startup founder. While it’s easy to get caught up in wearing multiple hats and being constantly “on watch,” she and her co-founder, Charlotte, prioritize checking in with each other and reminding themselves to carve out time for relaxation and rejuvenation. Recognizing the importance of maintaining a positive work environment for themselves and their team, Simonetta and Charlotte understand the value of drawing inspiration from unrelated interests and passions. By nurturing a healthy balance between work and personal life, they ensure their well-being and creativity remain intact, ultimately benefiting both their professional endeavors and personal growth.

Simonetta d’Ottaviano’s pioneering efforts in the realm of personal cybersecurity exemplify her commitment to driving positive change and empowering individuals to take control of their digital lives. Through her innovative approach and steadfast dedication, she continues to leave an indelible mark on the security industry, inspiring others to follow in her footsteps.

“Women need to be represented in the security sector, to contribute their opinions and skills because the people building the products that shape our world need to reflect the diversity of the people that use them.”