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Cybersecurity: so boring but oh so rewarding!

By Barnaby Frumess, September 2015

We have all seen it in the movies: The last minute thwarting of some villain by the hacker-turned-hero, clacking away viciously on the keyboard of some conglomerate mainframe, the clock ticking down to one second left as a threat is mitigated. It isn’t just on the silver screen that we find this kind of gallant tension. I remember the beginning of the new TV season, Fall of 2014, when literally every single show had a cybersecurity theme – Scorpion, CSI:Cyber, even Castle – the saturation of cybersecurity was at an all-time high. The brand new highly-acclaimed show Mr Robot drops the L-word (Linux) nearly every episode; I can hear the hacker fanboys gaming keyboards clacking with glee each episode.

Fortunately or unfortunately, this is not how it is in the real world.I recently had a visit to the college where I teach from 50-odd gifted technology high school students. They are part of a program where they will come to do some college courses and possibly fast-track into our cybersecurity program. I had prepared a demo where I set up an Apache webserver on our closed network and was to have everyone try to send a file to it from whatever computer they were sitting at. During the demo, I kept saying “cybersecurity is boring!” I think the high school teachers were taken aback at first, but by the end of the demo the kids were all yelling “cybersecurity is boring” as they excitedly tried to push their files to the server. I was guilty of using reverse psychology and I admitted it. However, the fact remains that cybersecurity actually is boring. Why? Because just as with physical security, nothing happens until it happens.

Long periods of nothing with bursts of action
Another familiar scene from the movies is the lazy guard falling asleep in front of a bunch of monitors. This is more akin to the life of a network administrator, the position that would often be tasked with maintaining security measures. Appliances that live on the network perimeter are constantly monitoring network traffic and recording it into logs. It is the job of the sysadmin to monitor those logs and clean them on a regular basis. It is about as exciting as it sounds. Even at the well-known security companies like Mandiant FireEye, security professionals spent the better part of a decade watching groups from enemy nation-states ravage networks in our country. Security by its very nature tends to be long periods of nothing with bursts of action.

With this in mind, as you enter the Utica College program, the pace of learning should match the steady pace of system administration. Each course builds upon the next in either a lateral fashion, where two fields that complement each other share reading material, or vertically, where software that is introduced in one is increasingly relied upon in the next. This pattern is exciting because of the method of introduction of new materials, highlighting their usage in industry.

Bringing Cybersecurity techniques into practice
The program of study is such that by the time the capstone project is reached, the student is well-versed in cybersecurity techniques. The culmination of the program in the capstone paper is often the first chance for the students to be published. The opportunity to do research makes for a unique opportunity to contribute to the cybersecurity community in a meaningful way. Utica has received special commendation from the government and graduates may find themselves recruited by the same.

About the Author

Barnaby FrumessBarnaby Frumess is a professor at SUNY Orange in the Computer Sciences division.  After two decades of playing rock & roll guitar, cooking in restaurants, and living in a van down by the river, he decided to change careers.

Professor Frumess, as he likes to be known, has now finished all coursework in the Utica College MS Cybersecurity program and is working on his capstone project.  With the guidance and mentorship of the Utica faculty, he was able to maneuver the hurdles of a new discipline and successfully change careers.

With the opportunity to help new students, new Utica College family members, Professor Frumess dedicates this blog experience to those who take the plunge into new waters and to those who make that plunge possible.

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