People are often only a click away from their personal information. Critical information can be stored on their computers, tablets and the smartphones in their pockets.
With a rise in the amount of personal information people have on their devices, what follows is a rise of the wrong people wanting to get their hands on that information.
“Cybersecurity is a national security issue and an economic security issue,” says Gary Sparks, director of the Cybersecurity program at Metropolitan Community College in Omaha, Nebraska.
While many automatically think of the term “hacker” to describe someone trying to pry at that sensitive data, Sparks says that isn’t actually the best word, and prefers the term “attacker.”
“The term ‘hacker’ a lot of times is misused because everyone who works in information technology is kind of a hacker,” he explains. “They are trying to get under the belly of the operating system and tweak the systems out.”
Attackers are trying to find information for blackmail or fraud purposes most commonly, Sparks says.
"In cybersecurity, it’s important to notice things out of the ordinary. Integrity is a huge piece of it; too, because of the access that person has to very sensitive data"
“They are trying to get people’s money,” he explains. “Or they are trying to disrupt an operation. We are seeing a large scope of that. A nation state may target a city. If they can get access to their power grid, then at that point, they can shut down the city’s power system very quickly.”
Sparks also says that “fraud season” is the time over the holidays when attackers ramp up efforts to steal credit card numbers, personal information and more.
Chad Lynch, chief information security officer at MCC, says attackers are often trying to trick people by impersonating a company or coworker to get important information.
“With the advances in technology and the growth of personal computers, laptops, smartphones, hackers have learned to attack these personal devices. It is critical to stay informed and ahead of bad actors,” he says. “Cybersecurity training is very important to improve security awareness, data protection and verification if somebody is requesting your financial records, asking to transfer money, or to reconfirm your login and password.”
With attackers working any way they can to get valuable information, the need for cybersecurity jobs has grown exponentially. In 2019, there were more than 270,000 cybersecurity job openings, according to cyberseek.org, but only 112,000 were filled.
With so many jobs readily available, Sparks says cybersecurity education is extremely important now more than ever, as it can touch on multiple departments within a business.
“Cybersecurity is really everybody’s business,” Sparks says.“Some of what students learn in training programs is concept and application. They also learn how to put their mind into the mind of an attacker to see how they work. They learn to notice physical security issues or what information a company may have on their website that can be used in an attack.”
Cybersecurity education can lead to many different careers, Sparks says.
“When cybersecurity students complete their degree and look for just cybersecurity jobs, they may struggle. But if they look for something like a network administrator, they have taken a lot of those classes too. If they get hired and tell them they also specialize in cybersecurity, that is going to add value to the company. They not only have an administrator, they have someone who understands those security aspects and why it’s important.”
With all the job options available, Lynch says there are cybersecurity jobs for people with different interests and specializations.
“This new cybersecurity job market will be growing for people with experience not just in coding, but understanding human factors, financial data, cloud technology, artificial intelligence, gamification, and a layered defense strategy,” Lynch says.
For those considering a career in cybersecurity and thinking of enrolling in a program or taking classes, Sparks says they should be keen observers and trustworthy.
“In cybersecurity, it’s important to notice things out of the ordinary. Integrity is a huge piece of it, too, because of the access that person has to very sensitive data,” he explains. “The knowledge they have could do a lot of damage if it’s wrongfully used. They have to think about that.”
Lynch says even people not in the cybersecurity job field should be aware of things out of the ordinary and cautious when putting personal information on the internet, such as online banking or shopping.
“People should be aware of requests for payment or setting automatic bank withdrawals that you are unaware of. Always call the sender to verify the transaction if in doubt,” he says. “ Be vigilant and if something looks suspicious in an email or a voicemail asking for your information or to click on unknown links, call the sender or let your work’s IT security office be aware clicking on a site and enacting a virus or responding to a phishing email.”