Most everything today relies on computers and the internet, from email communications and smartphones, video games, social media and online shopping to medical systems and records.
Cybersecurity is the burgeoning art of protecting computer networks, devices and data from unauthorized access and the practice of ensuring confidentiality, integrity and availability of information.
Ulku Clark is an information systems professor at University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Cameron School of Business and director of the university’s Center for Cyber Defense Education. Fifteen years ago, Clark recognized the rising importance of cybersecurity. It spurred her to create courses at UNCW and develop a student cybersecurity club with computer science professor Ron Vetter.
There are more than 700,000 cybersecurity job openings in the United States, according to CybserSeek, an online tool that tries to connect employers and job seekers.
“Unfortunately, this number is growing every year. UNCW and many other academic institutions are doing our best to overcome the workforce shortage problem,” Clark said.
UNCW offers six cybersecurity programs that graduate cybersecurity professionals with skills ranging from managerial to technical. Any UNCW student can couple his or her degree with a cybersecurity minor and become an interdisciplinary cybersecurity professional. The university is also in the process of proposing a new cybersecurity concentration for the business school and a new concentration in maritime cybersecurity.
After completing her undergraduate degree in Turkey, Clark obtained a doctorate in management science with a management information systems (MIS) concentration from University of Texas at Dallas.
“I found the continuous change in technology intriguing. And MIS is a great intersection of the business world and computers,” she said.
Even as a child, Clark had an interest in solving tough problems.
“As a young kid, I loved puzzles. Some aspects of cybersecurity require you to put the pieces together and figure out what causes an issue or stop something bad from happening,” she said.
Clark’s job hunt after graduation led her to UNCW. “I accepted an offer because I wanted to be close to the beach,” she recalled. Clark has taught full time at UNCW for 17 years. This fall, she is teaching cybersecurity essentials and an analytics course for the MBA program.
Clark is a founding member and current director of the Center for Cyber Defense Education (CCDE), which was launched in 2018 as part of UNCW’s effort to be designated by the National Security Agency/Department of Homeland Security as a Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education.
Clark points to the rapid digitization of our daily lives as a contributor to cybersecurity policy and technical gaps.
“Every area of the economy is affected from public to private with small- to medium-sized businesses and smaller governments experiencing the most difficult gaps to bridge,” she said. The CCDE intends to address as many gaps as possible while trying not to spread itself too thin according to Clark.
The CCDE is part of a statewide cybersecurity coalition that recently received a $2 million grant from the National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity. Equipped with this funding, the CCDE is starting a security operation center that will enable up to 60 cybersecurity students a year to have work-based learning experiences.
The CCDE recently offered a two-day Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) workshop to local and regional Defense Industrial Base Sector members. The workshop was designed to help smaller members understand CMMC requirements and readiness guidelines, often a big challenge for small- to medium-sized businesses.
Clark has been expanding her reach to encourage the next generation of cybersecurity professionals. This summer, Clark and her colleague Geoff Stoker hosted a cohort of 12 high school Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps students for a six-week introduction to cybersecurity.
Clark and Stoker were also recently awarded $150,000 by the NSA to host a GenCyber Teacher Camp to equip middle- and high-school teachers with curriculum to inspire the next generation of cybersecurity defenders. Teachers will leave the program with an understanding of cybersecurity fundamentals and a portfolio of tools to incorporate into their classrooms.
In October, UNCW will host the fourth annual Cybersecurity Conference with a focus on maritime and financial technology (fintech) cybersecurity. Workshops in penetration testing and threat modeling will be offered as well as the opportunity to participate in an incident response tabletop exercise and a career workshop.
Clark said that cybersecurity is important for everyone.
“That includes individuals, any size organization and government agencies,” she said. “Large organizations and government agencies are usually well protected, but we are only as strong as the weakest link. For that reason, it is essential for everyone and every little organization to have a basic understanding.
“People who personally behave in an unsecured manner and small organizations without proper training are usually the ones who lead to breaches through supply chains,” Clark added.
“It’s everybody’s job to follow basic cyber hygiene practices and do their due diligence to protect themselves and their organizations.”