As need for cybersecurity grows, USF class offers solutions

Students are able to sign up for a Maymester class called “Cybersecurity and the Everyday Citizen,” which tackles the human aspect of security in the age of technology. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

From international hacking scams to card skimmers at gas stations, the world of developing technology can be alarming.

In an attempt to help students understand this, education professors Michael and Ilene Berson will teach the Maymester class “Cybersecurity and the Everyday Citizen.” 

They said the class focuses on what the average student needs to know. 

“Rather than looking at the technical side, we’re focusing on the human aspect,” Ilene, professor of early childhood education, said. “What safeguards are there to protect your own data.”

Ilene gave the example of a dance student who shares a video of choreography on Facebook. She pointed out that action is sharing intellectual property — something that student created that can be patented, trademarked or copyrighted.

But when intellectual property gets on the internet, issues can arise. 

For example, Gelila Mesfin, an Ethiopian art student in New York, created an image of former first lady Michelle Obama dressed in an ancient Egyptian headdress and posted it online, according to the Chicago Tribune.

The image appeared as a mural in a building in Chicago’s South Side last week as a work by Chris Devins, who found the image online without a source, without credit to Mesfin.

While the two are negotiating a resolution, this illustrates a potential issue with releasing intellectual property online — you never know who will see it and whether they’ll see the original post.

Ilene said issues like this are one of the interesting things about teaching the class, because there’s always a new topic coming up. As teachers, she and Michael don’t have to go back two years or even two weeks for some of their material.

They also teach the “internet of things,” which is rapidly expanding. The term has to do with devices that connect to the internet or another device. This can stretch from ATMs and cellphones to smart lamps and cars. 

“It’s hard to discern a part of our life that isn’t connected,” Ilene said.

While the class discusses larger issues such as these, it also points out more mundane aspects of cybersecurity such as creating a strong password and privacy settings on social media. 

Ilene pointed out that more employers are looking at the social media pages of potential hires to help influence who gets the job, and this is something students need to be aware of.

“Maybe it’s not the best idea to post a picture of yourself at that party with your red cup and dressed up for whatever theme the party has,” she said.

Michael said they’ve given students mock applications and Facebook feeds of potential employees, and asked which one the students would hire. The exercise usually sparks discussion, with students disagreeing and some arguing that employers shouldn’t be able to view these platforms.

Michael and Ilene designed the class specifically for intersession periods — Maymester and Winter Session — to draw in more students.

“We wanted to make sure it was open to all students,” Michael said. “All students are packed, regardless of their major, so we thought this help it fit into students’ schedules.”