Curl up with this year's Housing Guide for dorm friendly recipes, curfew throwbacks and more, click here

Class tackles real cybersecurity challenges

Sensitive information stored by banks and retail companies has become increasingly compromised by computer hackers in recent years. PHOTO ILLUSTRATION/ADAM MATHIEU

In today’s digital age, there are hidden risks that come with reliance on technology.

Last month, the National Science Foundation (NSF) gave $300,000 to USF to prepare graduate students to take on some of these risks by assessing cybersecurity challenges with real-life business cases.

Information Systems Decision Sciences (ISDS) professor Grandon Gill will lead a course this spring semester for students in the new cybersecurity master’s program. 

An example he used was the Target credit card breach that affected up to 110 million customers last March.

Every shopper who paid for their purchases with a credit or debit card were at risk of having their accounts drained by hackers. The breach spread to headlines across the country and raised public awareness of need for cybersecurity.

“They haven’t thought about what might happen if they give their credit card out at a restaurant,” Gill said.

Yet, Gill said cybersecurity reaches further than just credit cards.

Gill said students might as well voluntarily expose themselves to cybersecurity threats, and they also don’t realize they are at risk every time they log on to Facebook or check theirs emails.

The NSF grant was given to the College of Business ISDS department to work with the School of Information and the criminology department to develop the master’s course, which will include about 15 case studies that will be geared toward local businesses and how cybersecurity affects people. 

Gill will work with ISDS professor Manish Agrawal, who explained the risk cybersecurity plays on college students as well.

“Students should care about cybersecurity so they don’t hurt themselves,” Agrawal said. “Students might be a little careless in the software and other things they install on their computers, which will render them unusable.”

Once a computer has been compromised, Agrawal said there is a lot of aggravation and lost time getting it back up to speed. Not to mention that money is also needed to fix the problem, costing up to hundreds of dollars.

“If they (students) lose the service of that computer for that one week while it is getting repaired, they fall behind on assignments,” Agrawal said.

One of the challenges of cybersecurity is not developing new products to prevent threats, Gill said, but trying to get individuals to understand what constitutes a threat and opens them up to cybersecurity threats.

“I think its important folks recognize just how widespread these threats are,” Gill said. “You’re never going to stop cybersecurity threats, but you can make it a lot more expensive for hackers to get in.”

Gill said it’s key for his classes’ graduate students and anyone on a computer to be aware of the risks.

“This is a risk that everybody who turns on a computer faces,” Gill said.