Back to School 2022: Seven Tips for Staying Cyber Safe

According to the World Economic Forum’s 2022 Global Risks Report, 95 percent of cybersecurity issues can be traced to human error. Notably, emails and text messages are the easiest ways for criminals to deliver malware or access your personal information. If you are not cyber-savvy, a seemingly innocent email can be used to inflict damage, steal passwords and account numbers or trick you into revealing personal information.

Knowing the possible vulnerabilities and risks of fraud and cybersecurity breaches in advance will help protect students (and faculty) online. Philip Chan, adjunct professor in the School of Cybersecurity & Information Technology at University of Maryland Global Campus, offers his tips for staying cyber safe this fall and beyond.

1. Secure your internet connections and social media apps. Use a secure VPN connection and avoid using unsecured Wi-Fi sources in public areas. Secure social media apps by checking default privacy settings when opening an account on a social media website. Consider customizing your privacy settings to minimize the amount of biographical information others can view on a social media site. Never provide account information, Social Security numbers, bank information, or other sensitive financial information on a social media site.

2. Keep an eye out for phishing scams. A big cyber risk comes from emails or text messages that look like they are from a company you know or trust but are designed to trick you into clicking on a link or opening an attachment. These messages may claim suspicious activity, a problem with your account or a request for payment information. Make sure all emails are from a reliable source. When in doubt, forward them to a trusted IT contact at your institution.

3. Secure all your devices. Lock up any unused applications on your smartphone or other mobile devices. The best defense against viruses, malware, and other online threats is to keep security software current on all devices connected to the internet. Be sure you have the most up-to-date mobile security software, web browser, operating system, and apps.

4. Protect your personal information. Be judicious about who has access to that information and how it is collected through apps and websites. Securing your devices can help protect your information if a device is lost or stolen.

5. Use strong passphrases, passcodes, or other features such as touch identification to lock your devices. Use security and privacy settings on websites and apps to manage what is shared about you and who sees it.

6. Check out the terms and conditions of any so-called free trials. Many subscription offers are tempting, especially if they offer a free trial period before you commit. These offers obtain your credit card number for a “free trial” but can authorize continuing payments if you don’t cancel before the trial period ends. Sometimes the return and cancellation policies on free trial offers are so strict that they are almost impossible to implement. The terms and conditions should precisely tell the trial period’s length and how and when to cancel if you don’t want to continue.

7. Secure your gaming platforms. Gaming platforms, including multi-player video games and online gambling, are particularly vulnerable to fraud. To mitigate risk, use robust authentication

at onboarding. Secure your accounts with a strong password, enable two-factor authentication where possible, never share login details with others, and always remember to log out when finished playing. Parents should familiarize themselves with cyberstalking and cyberbullying and what to do when their child becomes a victim. Parents should also keep devices out in the open where they can monitor their kids’ activity. Set limits for screen time and teach your kids to stay away from strangers on the internet. Promote safe practices such as not sharing personal information online.

When in doubt, report any incidents to your IT department or faculty rather than trying to handle them alone and getting in trouble.

Philip Chan is an adjunct professor in the School of Cybersecurity & Information Technology at University of Maryland Global Campus.

Globetrotting Elton Hima Advances State Department’s Cybersecurity Goals

Elton Hima discovered at a young age that moving around the world brings opportunity. He combined that adventurous spirit with a business degree from University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) that is now opening a pathway to a career he values.

“I chose UMGC because it offered me the flexibility of fully online classes,” Hima said. “Also, the experience offered me a window into the academic world, including research projects that I really enjoyed.”

Born and raised in Albania, where his parents still live, Hima’s penchant for travel came early. “After high school, I moved to Italy and then France for work, gaining knowledge and exposure to different cultures, which was rewarding on a personal and professional level,” he said.

He became a U.S. citizen in 2014 and a first-generation college graduate in 2017, when he earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and Management from UMGC. Along the way, he gained fluency in English, French and Italian, in addition to his native Albanian.

Hima spent the earlier part of his career gaining a wide array of experiences, all rooted in the field of information technology. He worked two years for ViSalus, a global healthy lifestyle company, followed by a stint as a financial benefits clerk at the U.S. Consulate in Frankfurt, Germany, and then several months as a project management specialist at the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria, South Africa. Prior to that, he served as an event coordinator with Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide. Although Hima’s work experience is wide-ranging, his jobs reflect a solid foundation in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).

“I was drawn to STEM early on and understood that data has a robust and reliable story to tell and the ability to help humanity develop and increase its potential,” he said. “So once I had access to a computer, I took it upon myself to learn to code and understand processes and applications.”

Now Hima’s career journey has taken yet another rewarding turn. He was recently selected, along with 15 others, for the prestigious Foreign Affairs Information Technology (FAIT) fellowship. FAIT is a two-year program funded by the U.S. Department of State. It puts its fellows on a path to a career in the foreign service by providing academic funding for an IT-related degree, internships, professional development, and mentorship.

Hima will receive up to $75,000 in academic funding for a two-year IT-related master’s degree program. Upon successful completion of the fellowship, he will receive an appointment in the foreign service as an information management specialist.

The highly competitive opportunity will allow Hima to contribute through public service while also advancing a career path he enjoys and values. “The fellowship is an excellent opportunity for me to give back to the country that adopted me,” he said. “I’m also excited that it will lead to a career in the foreign service and give me a front seat to foreign policy development and execution.”

Hima’s degree from UMGC positioned him for success and growth while he worked in the lifestyle and hospitality industries. In the fall, he will pursue a Master of Science in Cybersecurity at Brown University, further drawing on his STEM background to advance the goals of the State Department.

Entrepreneur Will Use Health Administration Degree to Expand Her Hair Business

Kathryn Akinmuyisan’s Bachelor of Science in Health Administration puts her a step closer to her goal: to augment a thriving hair business with health and wellness offerings, including group fitness and nutrition.  

“I have my own hair business, Bundled Up Beauties, and now I plan to use my degree to support my fitness business,” she said. “Health care and nutrition are what I’m really into.” 

Akinmuyisan comes from a family that values education and hard work. Her Nigerian father and Kenyan mother met in, of all places, India, where they were attending university.  

“My family had a church in Nigeria, which they wanted to expand, and so they sought to do this in America,” Akinmuyisan said. They won a visa to the United States through the lottery program. 

Through sponsorship from an aunt already in the United States, the family initially moved to Prince George’s County, Maryland, and shortly after settled in Columbia, Maryland, where Akinmuyisan’s mother became a first-time homeowner.  

Akinmuyisan had the example of her mother. When Akinmuyisan was 9, her mother became a single parent who put herself through nursing school and supported the family. Knowing that her mother didn’t have the money to put four children through school, Akinmuyisan joined the Air Force to gain access to higher education and see the world.  

In the military, she began studying for a criminal justice degree, which was not easy.  

“When I initially started school in 2017, I was working from deployed locations in Europe and Africa,” she said. “Often, I didn’t have Wi-Fi, so I just got my time in whenever I could go to a hotel.” 

It was during her time in the Air Force that Akinmuyisan saw an opportunity to start a hair business. “There were a lot of women around me in the military who were having trouble finding hair extensions and products they needed,” she said.  

When she was honorably discharged in 2019, she decided to pursue a health administration degree at University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) to build out her expanding hair business with health and fitness. “People kept asking me questions about fitness since I was in the military so I decided to pursue my all-around interest in wellness and just helping people be the best they can be,” she said.  

At 26, Akinmuyisan is looking forward to a bright future. She and her partner are thinking about starting a family, and she aims to establish herself firmly in the health care and wellness space, eventually pursuing a master’s degree in a health-related area. “Whatever I do, I want to incorporate nutrition because what you put into your body is so important,” she said. 

Coming from a supportive family that values higher education, Akinmuyisan never thought twice about pursuing her degree and her dreams. To others who might be having doubts about education or their career path, she advises, “Just make a plan and do it, because if you don’t, you’re going to have regrets.”  

For UMGC Alum, Cyber Competitions Improve Skills that On-the-Job Training Overlooks

Chris Haller loves capture the flag competitions (CTFs). The University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) graduate, who received his B.S. in Computer Networks and Security in 2017 and M.S. in Cybersecurity Management and Policy in 2020, frequently enters these cybersecurity events where individuals compete in security-themed challenges for the purpose of obtaining the highest score.

“They are a huge plus for my career,” he said. “They allow me to hone my skills and they compel me to apply what I’ve learned.”

Haller, the director of Professional Services at Centripetal Networks in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, added that cybersecurity competitions are one of the biggest things he looks for when he hires for his company. “CTFs can help bridge the experience gap for new grads trying to break into cyber,” he said.

Haller’s passion for cybersecurity started young. Driven by his own curiosity, he was always interested in computers and video games. “I was lucky enough to find a position with the Navy to provide formal training,” he said.

Haller’s early enthusiasm for computers, combined with his professional experience in all things cyber, has paid off. He recently captured first-place in the National Cyber League Individual competition, a twice-a-year performance-based collegiate cybersecurity competition that draws more than 6,000 participants.

The National Cyber League, a mission-driven organization that focuses on preparing the next generation of cybersecurity professionals, is known in the competition world as offering some of the most challenging events. For Haller, the biggest challenge is time management and accuracy.

“Entrants are required to answer questions across a three-day period, so it requires a significant time investment,” he said.

Haller’s competition experience has led to on-the-job success, as he and his team address some of the biggest challenges of the day, notably to proactively block advanced threats before they can damage networks.

“At Centripetal we’ve found a way to do this by ingesting cyber threat intelligence, which tells us which IPs and domain names are malicious, and we stop it at the perimeter,” he said. “By stopping attacks at the reconnaissance stage, we prevent malicious attacks downstream.”

Haller believes more cybersecurity teams need to adopt this approach of blocking known malicious threats before they reach the perimeter. “

Every organization that manages a security information and event management system (SIEM) can see millions of alerts every day about the attacks launched against their environment. There is simply no way for a human to review them all,” he said. “Blocking with intelligence about known malicious activity on the internet reduces the number of alerts in the SIEM to manageable levels, making it easier to investigate for malicious activity.”

With billions of threat alerts bombarding defense organizations every day, Haller believes that the industry should be more proactive in its approach—using designated hit lists to block known bad actors from the web and free up time and energy to go after as-yet-unidentified threats.

When he’s not honing his skills in cyber competitions or researching nation-state bad actors damaging organizations around the world, Haller enjoys providing value to customers through professional services, such as penetration testing and incident response. Down the road, he hopes to give back.

“I would like to see myself in a teaching position as well, helping others understand the things I’ve learned on how to protect networks from attacks,” he said.

To Anyone Returning to School Later in Life, Graduate Mae Beale Says Make it a Priority

When Mae Beale returned to school in her late 70s to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Business Management, she had already spent several years in a career as a licensed practical nurse (LPN). Others in her shoes might have faced this decision with trepidation. Instead, the Howard County, Maryland, resident jumped in with purpose and confidence.  

Of the decision to study at University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC), she said, “I discovered that I had to be intentional about it and make it my priority.”  

Over her long career as an LPN in Washington, D.C., Beale worked at health care and government agencies in the area, including Children’s National Hospital, the National Naval Center (now Walter Reed National Military Medical Center), the Washington VA Medical Center Hospital, and later joined the Department of Health and Human Services. It was at the Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Medicare and Medicaid where Beale’s career pivoted toward business and event planning.  

“My supervisors thought I had something special,” she said. “When I was working at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, I organized some large events and everybody was impressed with it, so I started coordinating their IT information conferences.”  

In 1994, Beale established her own event planning business, In Grand Style, and started working toward her associate degree in Business Management at Howard Community College. As a member of several local boards and as someone who is deeply involved in her community, Beale has always enjoyed business, building relationships, and organizing. She has spent the past 40 years supporting her Howard County, Maryland community through activism, civic engagement, and volunteering.  

So, after getting her associate degree, Beale decided to enroll at UMGC and work toward a bachelor’s degree, one class at a time. “I wanted to make certain I had the time to devote to whichever class I was taking,” she said. “I was like the tortoise. Slow and steady wins the race.”  

Beale’s dedication to putting her best into each class paid off. She made the Dean’s List several times at UMGC and graduated with honors, a major accomplishment for her.  

At UMGC, Beale devoted much of her time to helping others. For four years while she pursued her degree, she served on the UMGC Student Advisory Council. Even after she finished her coursework, she continued as an ex-officio member until her term ended in December 2020. In January 2021, Beale was honored as Volunteer of the Month. 

Well into her retirement as a licensed practical nurse, and now as a community advocate with her Bachelor of Business Management in hand, Beale is busier than ever. She has joined a few more local boards, including those of the Howard County, Maryland Tourism and Promotion, the Restaurant Association, the Festival of the Arts, and the Columbia Bright Minds Association.  

With her degree, Beale already feels a greater sense of respect. “I knew that if I had the degree, it would solidify things and make me feel more comfortable,” she said. 

Beale was fortunate throughout her career to have the support of a loving husband and son. “I tell everyone my husband allowed me to be me,” she said. “Whatever ambition or whatever I was doing, he was always my biggest, encourager and my biggest motivator.” Beale’s husband passed away several years ago, but her son remains one of her biggest supporters.  

To others who may be on the fence about pursuing higher education, Beale says to do what makes your heart sing. “Expose yourself to as many possibilities as you can because you never know what life will present.”  

From Homelessness to a Master’s Degree, Yannick Bopda Now Aims for Medical School

For two long years, Yannick Bopda has looked forward to walking across the graduation ceremony stage to receive his degree in full regalia. Bopda officially completed his master’s degree in health administration in 2020, but COVID-19 interrupted plans for commencement. Bopda now can finally don cap and gown and put an exclamation point on a journey that was far from easy.  

Bopda’s path to higher education started as a child in Cameroon. Seeking political asylum, Bopda and his family left the country in 2005 to escape the ongoing warfare and genocide. In the United States, the son of college-educated parents did not initially follow in their footsteps. Describing himself as a typical rebellious teenager, Bopda dropped out of high school.  

“Sometimes teenagers just want go to McDonald’s and work and earn money, and they think that’s enough,” he said.  

Shortly after dropping out, Yannick’s life took a turn down a path that would forever change him – homelessness.  

Upon learning he had dropped out of high school, Bopda’s parents kicked him out of the house. With nowhere to go, he sought refuge in a local homeless shelter. During his year in the shelter, Yannick discovered a resiliency and drive that he did not know he had. Witnessing chronic illness and death around him, he found himself at a crossroads. He woke up one morning in the shelter thinking deeply about the meaning of his own life.  

“There will always be obstacles,” he thought, “but how you respond to these will define if you deserve to get that big breakthrough.” 

He decided that day to complete his GED and then pursue his certification as a licensed medical administrative assistant, which launched his career and provided a way out of the shelter.  

In the shelter, Bopda had to rely on his inner strength to survive. With no real guidance or mentorship, he focused only on the future, hoping that tomorrow would not be like yesterday.  

“I held onto academics as my way out and knew that although life was pretty hard, the best is yet to come,” he said. “I decided that I will not become a statistic but will one day be able to give back to this country that adopted me and always help others.”  

Upon leaving the shelter and beginning work in the medical field, Bopda earned his associate degree at Prince George’s Community College, which propelled him to complete a bachelor’s degree in psychology at University of Maryland Global Campus in 2018.  

Bopda’s journey from homelessness to higher education has given him the confidence, zeal, and courage to take on further challenges. As a result of his hard work toward a health administration degree, Bopda earned induction into the Upsilon Phi Delta Society, as well as the Marquis Who’s Who and National Society of Leadership and Success.  

Now, Bopda aspires to train to become a medical doctor, specifically a gastrointestinal surgeon. 

“UMGC has helped me become the person I am today, to prepare me for medicine,” he said. “My master’s degree has allowed me to gain a better understanding of what it takes to run a successful health care practice.”  

Bopda believes that medicine is his calling. In the shelter, he came to understand that the world needs him to become a doctor. “I saw the lack of medical care and neglect; I saw what homeless people were going through, sickness and loss of life,” he said.  

Yannick is already taking steps to become a doctor for underserved populations. “I hope one day to create a technological solution to provide early detection for the diseases that are death sentences to many,” he said.  

Perhaps the most gratifying part of Bopda’s journey is that today he enjoys the full support of his family, both biological and spiritual. He and his father reconciled several years ago and the two remain close and supportive. “I have a great relationship with all of my family,” he said. “After I received my bachelor’s degree, my father came to my graduation that evening and he asked me to forgive him, which I did.”  

U.S. Cyber Command Selects University of Maryland Global Campus for New Academic Engagement Network

Network Schools Support USCYBERCOM in Promoting Cybersecurity Workforce Growth and Collaborate on Research and Analytics 

Adelphi, MD (April 25, 2022) — The U.S. Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM) has selected University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) to join its Academic Engagement Network (AEN), a select partnership of more than 80 colleges and universities throughout the United States tasked with supporting the USCYBERCOM mission of promoting cybersecurity workforce growth and collaborating on research and analytics. 

“The selection of UMGC as an inaugural member of the USCYBERCOM Academic Engagement Network aligns with our goal of preparing a more diverse, robust and qualified pool of cyber professionals for today’s workforce,” said Douglas Harrison, vice president and dean of the School of Cybersecurity and Information Technology at UMGC. “With a proud heritage of offering award-winning, flexible academic programs and services for active-duty military service members, veterans, and families, we are particularly honored to help the USCYBERCOM strengthen the Department of Defense (DoD) cybersecurity capabilities.” 

UMGC is one of 84 civilian and military academic partner institutions forming the network. Other AEN partners include the U.S. Naval Academy, National Defense University, and the U.S. Army War College. 

Along with the other AEN partners, UMGC will assist the DoD in fortifying its cybersecurity capabilities and expertise, and engage with USCYBERCOM in cyber-related applied research and analytics to provide insight into our adversaries’ cyberspace activities and help USCYBERCOM identify key issues and responsibilities in national security and cyber operations. 

About University of Maryland Global Campus

Celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2022, University of Maryland Global Campus is a world leader in innovative educational models with award-winning online programs in biotechnology, cybersecurity, data analytics, information technology, and other high-demand disciplines in today’s increasingly technical, global workplace. With an enrollment of some 90,000 students, UMGC offers open access with a global footprint and a specific mission—to meet the learning needs of students whose responsibilities may include jobs, family, and military service. The university offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees and certificate programs, including doctoral programs. A pioneer in distance education since 1947, UMGC is harnessing the power of learning science and technology to deliver accessible high quality, low-cost higher education.

UMGC Takes Third Place in a Strong Field at the Hack the Port 22 Maritime Cybersecurity Competition

Adelphi, MD — The University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) cybersecurity competition team earned a bronze award at the Hack the Port 22 Virtual and Live Maritime and Control Systems Cybersecurity event, finishing behind first-place Northeastern University and second-place Texas A&M University. For its accomplishment, the UMGC team was awarded a monetary prize of $3,000. 

The event, which took place in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, from March 21-25, was hosted by the U.S. Cyber Command and its innovation and prototyping partner, DreamPort. The competition featured teams from more than 30 universities nationwide.

Jesse Varsalone, associate professor of cybersecurity technology, coached the five-member UMGC team. Team members were Joshua Taylor and Artem Asoskov, undergraduate students majoring in computer network and cybersecurity; Scott Horner, an undergraduate majoring in Business Administration; Raiden Redila, an undergraduate in cybersecurity policy and management; and Team Captain Michael Frauenhoffer, a graduate student in the UMGC Cyber Operations Program. 

“It’s notable that all five UMGC team members have earned their CompTIA Security+ certification and two-thirds of the team is currently working in the field of cybersecurity, which puts us in a strong position for success,” said Varsalone. 

During the event, teams either chose to participate as attackers, known as “red teams,” or defenders, known as “blue teams.” Red teams attacked the critical infrastructure of the port, including gates, trains and ships. Blue teams tracked down and thwarted the actions of the attackers. 

“We chose to defend primarily because a large majority of the jobs in the field are associated with defending networks, so establishing that position offers our students an opportunity to gain real-world experience that best reflects the cybersecurity professional landscape,” said Varsalone. 

Participating schools included Bowie State, Florida Institute of Technology, Fordham University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Kennesaw State University, Naval Postgraduate School, New York University, Norfolk State University, Northeastern University, Pennsylvania State University, Stevens Institute of Technology, Texas A&M University, The Citadel, Towson University, and the United States Naval Academy, among others. 

Established in 2012, the UMGC cybersecurity competition team is composed of students, alumni, and faculty who compete regularly in digital forensics, penetration testing, and computer network defense scenarios that help them gain experience to advance their cybersecurity careers. To prepare for competitions, students detect and combat cyberattacks in the university’s Virtual Security Lab and work through case studies in an online classroom. 

Through its history, the UMGC team has received numerous top honors, including recent first-place finishes in the 2021 Maryland Cyber Challenge and the 2020 MAGIC, Inc. Capture the Flag competition and a second place finish in the 2012 Global CyberLympics.

About University of Maryland Global Campus

Celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2022, University of Maryland Global Campus is a world leader in innovative educational models with award-winning online programs in biotechnology, cybersecurity, data analytics, information technology and other high-demand disciplines in today’s increasingly technical, global workplace. With an enrollment of some 90,000 students, UMGC offers open access with a global footprint and a specific mission—to meet the learning needs of students whose responsibilities may include jobs, family and military service. The university offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees and certificate programs, including doctoral programs. A pioneer in distance education since 1947, UMGC is harnessing the power of learning science and technology to deliver accessible high quality, low-cost higher education.

University of Maryland Global Campus to Pilot Virtual and Augmented Reality Learning Environments

Some Fall Classes to be Offered Via Immersive Technologies

Adelphi, MD (April 5, 2022) — University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC), a pioneer of online education with a history of exploring innovative learning solutions, has partnered with VictoryXR, a global leader in creating learning environments through immersive technology, in a pilot program that will use virtual and augmented reality in classes in the fall term.

UMGC is one of 10 schools in the initial phase of the program that will implement a “digital twin campus” for students, whether they are enrolled in a face-to-face class or studying online.

Using an Oculus Quest 2 virtual reality headset or a personal computer, students will enter a “metacampus” and interact with instructors and fellow students in a classroom experience. Students can form small groups and work on projects together, regardless of where they are located.

“This is an opportunity to be a leader and early pioneer in leveraging the metaverse, which will represent a radical paradigm shift in online education and the end-to-end learner experience,” said Doug Harrison, vice president and dean of the School of Cybersecurity and Information Technology at UMGC. “Our partnership with VictoryXR represents another step toward creating broader access to higher education and strengthening the connection between students, faculty and other stakeholders, including success coaches, advisors, student services representatives, and other external academic and business partners.” 

The partnership was funded, in part, by Meta Immersive Learning (NASDAQ: FB). Meta will provide Quest 2 headsets during the project on each campus as well as funding for the digital twin buildouts. Each campus is built by VictoryXR on the EngageVR platform (LON: EXR). 

“Metaverse education is taking hold at American colleges and universities in a big way, and this fall’s cohort finds some big names planning to roll out digital twin campuses,” said Steve Grubbs, VictoryXR CEO. 

In addition to UMGC, other partner schools include Morehouse College, University of, Kansas School of Nursing, New Mexico State University, South Dakota State University
West Virginia University, University of Maryland Global Campus, and Southwestern Oregon Community College. Additional metaversities will be released in May.

About University of Maryland Global Campus

Celebrating its 75th anniversary, University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) was established in 1947 to serve adult students outside the traditional campus, including military service members and veterans. Today, UMGC enrolls some 90,000 students annually, offering bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree programs, as well as certificates in more than 90 fully online programs and specializations.

UMGC was the first university to send faculty overseas to teach active-duty military personnel at installations in Europe, beginning in 1949, expanding to Asia in 1956 and to the Middle East in 2005. UMGC faculty have taught in the war zones of Vietnam, Kosovo, Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq.   

UMGC now offers classes to military service personnel and their families at more than 180 locations in more than 20 countries. More than half of the university’s student body are active-duty military personnel and their families, members of the National Guard and veterans.  

About VictoryXR

VictoryXR is the global leader in metaverse education with active partners like Meta, Qualcomm and T-Mobile. VictoryXR pioneered the first metaversity with Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. VictoryXR won the Viveport award in 2018 for the best global VR education experience. 

Gender Diversity in Cybersecurity Starts with Early Education and Overcoming Biases

Historically, women’s path to STEM-related careers has been challenging, whether through unconscious bias, lack of early education and mentoring, or work-life balance hurdles. According to the latest research by the non-profit cybersecurity certification group (ISC)2, men continue to dramatically outnumber women in the field—only 24 percent of cybersecurity professionals are female—and pay disparity persists.  Still, there was a bright spot: The report found that women in the field are earning leadership positions in higher numbers. 

What is the most effective way to close the gender gap in cybersecurity? Loyce Pailen, Valorie King, and Tamie Santiago, members of the UMGC School of Cybersecurity & Information Technology faculty, share their thoughts and experiences.  

 Loyce Pailen, D.M., senior director of the Center for Security Studies, believes that embedding cybersecurity into media and popular culture will lead to early education and increased diversity. 

I firmly believe that early cybersecurity education, which incorporates the interdisciplinary nature of cyber-related topics and careers, will help increase gender diversity in cybersecurity through expanded exposure in all media, with special emphasis on social media. Political agendas, daily news about cyber breaches and personal injury from cyberattacks will force more people to engage and focus on the cyber concerns of the future. 

These forces will energize our society to put more emphasis on cyber in elementary and secondary schools on both the technical and non-technical sides. To support this effort, we need to see cyber make it to the forefront of our minds through media and popular culture that includes diverse players in multidisciplinary careers. TV shows and social media are featuring more cybersecurity themes today, which will engrain some of the concepts.

 Professional mentors helped Valorie King, Ph.D., director of UMGC’s Cybersecurity Management and Policy Program, overcome education bias early on and work-life challenges later. 

Throughout my career, I was guided and mentored by a succession of managers, executives and senior executives—all women—in the U.S. Department of Defense. Following in their footsteps, I mentor women who are just starting out in the field. 

Early preparation in advanced math prepared me for college [and a B.S. in computer science]. However, 15 years into my career, motherhood-related work-life balance challenges derailed my career advancement. As a full-time mother, I made sure that my daughter had access to math, science and computer classes and resources that neither public nor private schools provided because STEM wasn’t yet a priority for girls. 

Re-entering the workforce was not easy and it took almost a year to find a well-paying job as a management consultant. Along the way, mentors helped me identify ways to update my technical and soft skills. My mentors also encouraged me to pursue a master’s degree. During my degree program, peers supported me and provided a professional network that led me to my next career fields, information assurance and later cybersecurity. I now lead an academic program where my duties allow me to continue mentoring and coaching cybersecurity professionals who are building and improving their skillsets through advanced studies and teaching in the discipline.

Tamie Santiago, M.S., D.B.A., collegiate professor in the School of Cybersecurity & Information Technology, maintains that we must overcome unconscious biases if we’re going to close the gender gap.

Unconscious biases often lead to conclusions that frame inquisitiveness as nosiness, curiosity as potentially self-destructive, and the gift of organizing and leadership as being “bossy.” A girl or woman who is investigative is often considered “nosy or a busybody.” One who has great attention to detail and organization is thought of as “controlling.” Someone who demonstrates the gift of problem-solving may be considered a trouble-maker, while another who has a fascination with the mechanics and methods of things may be looked at as being weird. 

However, these are the very skills and traits needed in the cybersecurity field. The making of great digital forensic experts, data analytic scientists, cyber technologists, and management and policy professionals all draw from the strength of these talents. 

How do we overcome these gendered biases? Mentors who can observe and correctly discern the importance of raw talent and the gifts in others will recognize the hidden biases in language and labels and will know how to avoid or dismiss them. Young women and girls who are fortunate enough to be mentored will see a future far greater than otherwise imagined. 

Mentees value mentors with whom they identify or have shared values. They also feel a sense of connection to mentors who positively challenge them academically and in discovery. I should know—I’m one of them! Correctly harnessing, properly directing and creatively exposing young women and girls often and early to the field of cybersecurity are key success factors.

With demand from both the public and private sectors, cybersecurity is one of the fastest-growing career sectors. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of information security analysts is projected to grow 33 percent from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations. With a median pay of $103,590 (as of March, 2020), combined with growth in the frequency of cyberattacks, demand for information security analysts is expected to be very high. Initiatives to eradicate bias, promote early education and encourage mentorship are vital to supporting women in this field, now and in the future.