Technology conference sheds light on the future of cybersecurity

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Student conference organizers (from left) Jestika Gajjar, Kerrine Nelson and Tracee Stewart joined industry leaders from across the country at the event, which focused on combating cyberattacks. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Keylogging software, phishing scams and remote access Trojans are just a few of the security threats consumers and corporations face each day.

On Nov. 18, information technology professionals representing companies such as MasterCard, Ameren, Centene, Edward Jones and Express Scripts converged on the University of Missouri–St. Louis campus to discuss the best strategies for information defense at the MasterCard St. Louis Cybersecurity Conference 2016.

According to Calvin Nobles, cryptologic warfare officer for the U.S. Navy and featured conference speaker, up to 90 percent of critical identity information is in the hands of private entities, and this fact underscores the importance of big businesses committing to the use of best practices in cybersecurity.

“The number of cyberattacks is increasing every day, which is inundating our collective cyber defenses,” said Nobles. “Business leaders play a critical role in addressing known vulnerabilities, developing a cybersecurity workforce, mandating cyber awareness training and allocating resources to increase the capacity to combat cyber threats.”

Ron Green, chief information security officer at MasterCard, has firsthand knowledge of how sophisticated cyber criminals can be.

“We need smart people focused on protecting data – because there are smart people focused on getting it and using it for nefarious purposes,” said Green. “We have to stay several steps ahead of those people to make sure data is safe as technology changes at a very rapid pace.”

Home to a cybersecurity program that boasts designation as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education, UMSL proved to be the ideal place for Nobles and industry colleagues to seek out the next generation of smart people who will form the core of business leadership.

Student conference organizers Tracee Stewart, Jestika Gajjar and Kerrine Nelson all agree that their efforts as future business leaders will be integral in promoting vigilance against malicious hacking attempts.

As an information systems senior  at UMSL and an instructor for the St. Louis Chess Club, Stewart likens effective corporate cybersecurity to game theory.

“When it comes to chess and programming, you have to slow things down and analyze the situation. Sometimes, quick moves can do more harm than good,” she said. “ Good, well-thought-out cybersecurity will be more and more crucial for corporations and even homeland security.”

Gajjar, an information systems graduate student who hails from Mumbai, India, and channels her artistic talents into web design, focuses on the personal implications of cybersecurity.

“Your credit card, name, address, social security – is all online,” she said. “Technology has outgrown laws, and if you’re not protected, this could wreak havoc on you. Until the laws can catch up, it’s up to companies to protect your information.”

While Stewart and Gajjar espouse the benefits of effective strategy and corporate involvement in cybersecurity, Nelson focuses on how continuous mentorship will create a pipeline of industry professionals who advance cybersecurity efforts.

Relying on the business sense and interpersonal skills she honed as a restaurateur in Jamaica, Nelson mentors young women through department-sponsored programs such as Bluemix for Girls and the Women’s Hackathon.

“When you come to UMSL and realize the culture of community, you have no choice but to give back,” the MBA student said. “Students just starting out wonder how they’ll fit into an organization and grow, and pursuing the challenges of cybersecurity is another chance for them to flourish. I hope they can benefit from the job and internship opportunities that are presented to them at this conference.”

With students like Stewart, Gajjar and Nelson leading the way, Nobles is confident that the future of cybersecurity is bright.

“UMSL remains devoted to training the next generation of cyber professionals with a qualified, diverse faculty that has exceptional cyber practitioners and scholars,” he said. “The rigor of the school’s program and practically driven approach to cybersecurity serve as an exceptional platform to prepare future cyber professionals.”

The UMSL Experience

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