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Fighting smart

Divina Paredes | April 12, 2013
"I felt the learning curve was inverted, it was hanging up," says Laura Mather, on her experiences when setting up Silver Tail, an anti-fraud start-up.

Being based in Silicon Valley meant she got a lot of advice from people who have worked on start-ups. "I am helping lots of companies because lots of people helped me," she says. "Go find the expert in what you need to do and use them as an adviser. Get data -- multiple points of data -- from people who know what you are doing. The data is key."

Mather, who has a doctorate in computer science and a bachelor's degree in applied mathematics from the University of Colorado, describes her career path as "interesting".

After university, she worked at and at the National Security Agency in Washington DC. "There is simply something very patriotic about it," she says of her government stint. "You feel like you are protecting your country, which was nice."

She joined eBay in 2003, which at that time was the main target of the then new security problem of 'phishing'. Together with PayPal, eBay was very much the target of the new fraudulent attacks. "They couldn't really say we want to hire someone who has a graduate degree in fighting phishing, it wasn't a possibility," says Mather. "They said we need somebody who had worked in law enforcement and had internet experience. Somehow I just fit that, which was fantastic.

"The interesting thing at that time was that eBay had 80 million online users so I personally felt like I was protecting 80 million people."

The phishers would get a customer's password and would list an item and convince the buyer to send the money for the item which will never be delivered. When she received queries from these customers, "It would break my heart to say it is not coming," she says. "I really took it very personally because it was my job to stop that from happening."

Mather would bid for a listing that she suspected was fraudulent. "I wanted to see what the customer experience was like, how quickly did they get back to me? What kinds of things were they saying to me to try and convince me? I tried very hard to have the experience of the customers. I want to see what the experience is, it gives me real empathy."

She says that after her team developed a range of security strategies, the phishing emails targeting eBay went down to 15 percent. "The criminals found it not as lucrative to target eBay, I was somewhat successful in what I did."

One of the things the security team implemented was a toolbar that would find the phishing sites and create a list. If the customer tried to go to these sites, the toolbar would block them and tell them the site may be fraudulent.


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