Data protectors

You can’t see it or touch it and it often strikes without warning.

Considering recent national attacks, cybersecurity threats are becoming more and more important. Luckily, the University of Detroit Mercy has a cybersecurity program that is recognized by the NSA and the Department of Homeland Security as a center of academic excellence in cyber defense education.

This program started in 2008. In the same year Dr. Rita Barrios, associate professor and director of computer information systems, joined the university.

Barrios ended up in the field of cybersecurity as a natural progression of her field. After she received her bachelor’s degree in computer information systems she worked as a software engineer for Compuware.

For her whole career, Barrios has been protecting data so the transition into cybersecurity made complete sense.

 “We had to protect data,” she said. We’ve always had to protect data and I was the gatekeeper for a lot of it.”

When Barrios came to university they had just started talking about security, which she had already been dealing with for several years.

Everything came at the perfect time for this program.

Homeland Security gave the school a grant for $1.8 million to focus specifically on cybersecurity and Barrios helped establish the curriculum.

Ever since then the program has been excelling.

Junior Shawn Richards said he picked Detroit Mercy for cybersecurity because the program was ranked No. 3 in the northwest region by U.S. News.

Today there are currently 101 students including undergraduates and graduates. None of them will have difficulty finding a job.

 “One million jobs go unfulfilled each year and it will stay like this until schools have enough people graduating that are qualified in this field,” Barrios said.

“The problem is there are so few programs out there,” The director of the Master of Science in information assurance, Daniel Shoemaker, said.

Shoemaker, 71, has been at the university for thirty-two years and started his career in information systems, where he was teaching classes about a subject he knew very well.

For schools to teach cybersecurity, they must be willing to change the curriculum and that takes a lot of work.

 “This field of study is only about 20 years old, so everyone is still trying to figure it out,” Shoemaker said.

There are technically five schools in Michigan with a cybersecurity program: Ferris State University, Davenport University, Walsh College, Eastern Michigan University, and Detroit Mercy.

With more and more products being connected to the internet we are going to become more vulnerable.

Products that are connected to the internet can be used to accomplish a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack.

 “DDoS is where you have a bunch of zombie computers that do exactly what you tell them to do,” Shoemaker said. “These ‘computers’ use to be only laptops and desktops, but now they, hackers always have at least one internet enabled toaster that has Mirai malware.”

Internet enabled devices are supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems or program logic controls that are only programmed to do one function. Examples of SCADA devices include autonomous vehicles, ATM machines, gas stations, card readers and more.  

These machines are great tools, but the problem is none of them have any security built in them.

Visiting Professor Nicolas Jupillat said since the recent internet hackings, there is no such thing as being 100 percent safe. Jupillat is a lawyer from France who is teaching at the McNichols campus and the Law School.

 “Not only will more things be connected but with artificial intelligence (AI) machines coming into play will have the ability of deep learning, some already do,” he said.

Deep learning is where a machine can program itself based on the data it receives. The resulting product is the machine has the power to access even more data.

“In the next ten to fifteen years, cybersecurity in general will be a challenge,” he said.