Cyber Attacks Are Inevitable

  • September 6, 2018

Editor’s note: Levent Ertaul is a professor of computer science at Cal State East Bay and cybersecurity expert. He recently sat down with East Bay magazine to discuss the future of cybersecurity.

Q: What does the future of cybersecurity jobs look like for our students?

Ertaul: As far as California is concerned, great. We are preparing students to go directly into the industry. In the final exams, I am asking questions from the industry certification exams so the students can test themselves about whether they’re going to be successful out in the industry. Fundamentally we are preparing students for the cybersecurity field at this university, so they have a great chance to get employment. People in interviews are not asking whether you know this or you know that, instead, they are asking ‘can you solve this with what you know.’ So they don’t care what you know, what they do care is what you can do with what you know. Based on that change within the industry, we have a project class here, and I am teaching hands-on cybersecurity that way those students have a great chance to at least get the interviews. In addition, in the project classes, we are writing publications as well ... so when they go for interviews, they can say, 'I took these classes, I did these projects and I was published on an international level,' and then they get the interview. On top of that, we have three extracurricular activities, one of them is hackathon - these are hands-on, full day cybersecurity experiences. We also have a hackers group within the department, and they are competing in cybersecurity competitions.

"Build the bridge between theory and problem-solving. Our graduates need to know good programming, how to use the tools — both of which they’re using in the classroom."

Q: Why is the cybersecurity field growing so rapidly?

Ertaul: Our systems are inherently insecure. They are designed without consideration for security. People, or big companies, did not pay enough attention to security and then we became so interconnected, so online and suddenly security has become more critical. And it’s going to grow like that moving forward because the systems we have are not at proper security.

Q: Cybersecurity Ventures has predicted that by 2021 there will be 3.5 million unfilled cybersecurity positions. What is Cal State East Bay doing to prepare its students for those jobs?

Ertaul: We are ensuring that our students have the critical thinking skills they are going to need for the industry. They need to know why they are solving problems the way they are addressing them. In the industry, they’re not going to care that you got the result, but they will want to know how you reached that result. The last labor statistics show that the expected jobs for cybersecurity show a 28 percent increase until 2026. Why? Because as I’ve said, systems are inherently in trouble.

Q: What cybersecurity research and experiences are our students getting that will set them apart from their peers?

Ertaul: Build the bridge between theory and problem-solving. Our graduates need to know good programming and how to use the tools — both of which they’re using in the classroom. We’ve been continuously changing the content of our classes and now, thanks to semester conversion, we have a cybersecurity and privacy class for the graduate level that is no longer optional. We also have a network security class for undergraduates which we’ve never had before. We’re doing what we can to build the bridge between the classroom and the industry. It’s not about just reading the book and going to the industry.

Q: These days we hear a lot about cybersecurity breaches of personal information. What are three things the average person should know about protecting themselves?

Ertaul: I have been delivering speeches about cybersecurity, and everybody wants to know how to protect themselves, but this can be summed up on one slide: You cannot do too much, we are all screwed. So, unfortunately, you can not do too much, I am supposed to be a security expert, and I am still getting hit every three months. The thing is that unfortunately, we are so exposed, we can do really little things, but in the end, if something is going to hit you, it’s going to hit you. I am advising my friends though to keep their paper copies of bank statements because something will happen to the bank statements and you will be asked to prove that your money is yours. You take a risk, and you have to remember that and think about that risk and behave accordingly. If you are thinking about them and accepting them, you can behave accordingly and protect yourself.