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Opinion: From school districts to airlines, anyone can be hacked — cybersecurity protects

Weber State University provides resources to help us protect our information from identity theft and hacking

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In an increasingly connected world, the technology at our fingertips has become second nature to billions worldwide who conduct their business, education and personal lives in the digital realm. But with more connectivity comes more threats that can adversely affect not only individuals, but also national security and, potentially, our way of life. With National Cybersecurity Awareness Month upon us, October is a good time to refocus on cybersecurity and how it too can become second nature.

At its core, cybersecurity provides for the confidentiality, integrity and availability of information. As consumers and producers of data, we have daily opportunities to review and protect our information. Every time you shop online, post on social media or move around the internet, your information can be at risk. Perhaps without even knowing it, these risks have become part of our daily lives — and part of the news cycle. 

Consider two recent data breaches where confidential data was compromised: the Los Angeles Unified School District and American Airlines. The school district attackers used ransomware to demand payment of several million dollars. This attack disrupted access to email, student records and other vital administrative information, and attackers released approximately 500 gigabytes of data including social security numbers, student health records and other sensitive information.

In the case of American Airlines, information compromise was caused by an employee responding to a phishing email. During this breach, attackers gained access to private employee and customer information, making identity theft a real possibility. These are only two of dozens of top headlines regarding information compromise. 

But among the many dangers lurking in the digital sphere, there are “good guys” working diligently to protect and educate citizens. Weber State University is at the tip of that spear. Last month, the National Security Agency designated WSU as an NSA Center for Academic Excellence and Cyber Defense Education, thanks in part to the work being done through the WSU Cybersecurity Initiative, which provides training to community members and leaders on how to proactively protect their personal information. 

Matt Paulson headshot.

Matt Paulson, director of the Weber State University Cybersecurity Initiative.

Weber State University

To make cybersecurity second nature for our citizens, we start early. Weber State engages with local K-12 schools, teaching youth how to recognize and react to cybersecurity threats. WSU also provides mentors throughout the region for CyberPatriot, a national competition for junior high and high school students that focuses on how to identify and mitigate cyber vulnerabilities. This training is invaluable to protecting identities, even among children, who don’t always understand how online threats can impact their lives. 

Schools are an essential first step, but Weber State has also taken its cybersecurity initiative into the realm of national security. Through a collaboration with WSU’s Division of Online & Continuing Education, we coach our military partners at Hill Air Force Base and provide training for several security industry certifications, such as Security+, Certified Information System Security Professional and Protocol Analysis. The cybersecurity threat landscape is a new kind of warzone, and Weber State is on the front line of defense.

But defense can also take place in the home. Built into our family time should be frank and routine discussions about what information should or shouldn’t be shared, especially on social media. Additionally, families should look at their habits to determine if their information is at risk. Does your family do a lot of online shopping? Do they bank online? Do they use group messaging apps to keep in touch? All these activities can put information at risk and should be evaluated together. It’s also a good idea to consider what community resources are available to your family. While WSU provides many resources, there are troves of information in the community as well. Organizations such as the Center for Internet Security share best practices for protecting your banking, social media and other accounts. 

From schools to national defense to our homes, cybersecurity must be an integral part of our lives. Weber State University takes its role seriously in helping provide the education and resources our community needs to make that a reality. 

Dr. Matt Paulson is an assistant professor in the School of Computing at Weber State University. He is also the director of the WSU Cybersecurity Initiative.