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Interview: Dr. William Butler, Chair of Cybersecurity, Talks About Cyber Awareness Month

October is Cyber Awareness Month, which is focused on ensuring that all Americans stay safe and secure online. According to the Department of Defense, in 2018 there were over 1,200 security breaches, over 540,000 cases of identity theft, and nearly 450 million records exposed online.

Capitology Blog talked with Dr. William Butler, Chair of Capitol Technology University’s Cyber and Information Security programs and Director of the university's Center for Cybersecurity Research and Analysis (CCRA), to discuss cyber awareness and what everyone—from the general user to cybersecurity expert—can do to protect themselves.

Question: Why is cyber awareness important?
Answer: Cyber awareness is important for everyone – not just security professionals. It’s for anyone who uses computers or phones or iPads. Cyber hygiene is having good habits when using technology and accessing data.

Q: What can the average user do to ensure they are staying safe and secure online?
A: Cyber hygiene has become more important during the pandemic when most of our work is done from home, where we’re handling more company data. It’s very important to watch how you handle that data. You should make sure you are connecting securely to your work network via a Virtual Private Network or VPN. Another measure is to make sure the wireless networks you use have secure encryption.

The threat of Ransomware is on the rise. Hackers know we’re working from home. Sometimes the computer you’re using at home is not as secure as the computer you use at work. For example, If you click on an email and download ransomware, your computer will be locked up and held for ransom until an amount (typically in bitcoin) has been paid. It’s important to take greater care when handling company information on a daily basis.

Q: What can cybersecurity experts do to ensure they remain cyber aware?
A: Cybersecurity professionals need to follow the same advice they give to users. If we make mistakes, we can make systems vulnerable to hackers or bring systems down. We need to make our users aware that they are on the front lines now and have to be extra careful in what they’re doing. For example, phishing emails are designed to make you want to click on them. Hackers are very good at disguising emails as being from someone we know or using content that is hard to resist (you just won the European Lottery).

Q: What do you see as the biggest threat to cyber security today?
A: If you go to Starbucks, I don’t know that the general public understands that if you log into a public WiFi hotspot that doesn’t require a password, everybody on that particular hot spot is on a “party line” – meaning everyone can view everyone’s conversations. In order to protect yourself, you should always use a VPN or use your personal 4G or 5G network. Public WiFi means you are exposing yourself to the public.

Another area is disinformation. You can’t watch the news without seeing disinformation. Discerning what is real and what is fake is a challenge. What we try to do at CapTech is to teach critical thinking – you need to challenge the facts you are presented with and do your own research. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t. Disinformation campaigns are based on facts. There is enough correct information that you may be inclined to believe it on the first read – but upon closer examination you find it isn’t true. Deep Fake technology can be used to create fake videos with convincing audio. This is very dangerous and we cybersecurity professionals and researchers are seeking ways to defeat it before it causes even more problems in our society and our world.

Q: What do you see as the biggest threat in the future?
A: Quantum computers are emerging. Quantum computers will be able to break the encryption we currently use. It’s a race to create encryption algorithms that will resist being broken by a quantum computer. Quantum computing is a good thing – but will also make it much more difficult for us to secure the privacy of our data.

Artificial intelligence is used to make decisions such as credit request outcomes and other aspects of our daily lives. The algorithms driving AI must be made resistant to being hacked or altered to influence outcomes that are critical to our national security.

Q: What resources are available to remain cyber aware?
A: The Department of Homeland Security is a great resource, especially for the general user (CISA). The FBI also tracks cybercrimes and sends out alerts (FBI). The Federal Trade Commission watches for ads that are fraudulent (FTC). One of the most targeted groups are our elderly population. These websites focus on a lot of security tips for that population, especially with social media. These sites list the most recent concerns.

Helpful resources:

Want to learn about cybersecurity? Capitol Tech offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees in cyber and information security. Many courses are available both on campus and online. To learn more about Capitol Tech’s degree programs, contact admissions@captechu.edu.