The federal government estimates that by 2020 there will be 1.4 million computer job openings and U.S. colleges and universities are only expected to produce enough graduates to fill 2% of those jobs, according to Amanda Broyles, a systems engineer and forensic examiner at Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
Broyles was one of four speakers at the NorthWest Arkansas’ Cyber Security Awareness event held at the colleges Bentonville campus on Friday (Oct. 16). Roughly 275 students from the Springdale school system attended the Friday event. Over the course of this month more than 575 high school students in the area will hear the presentation as the college and major employers hammer home the wide open opportunities that exist in the areas of computer technology and other disciplines comprising STEM education – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
Before joining Wal-Mart, Broyles worked in Quantico, Va., for the Federal Bureau of Investigation for 12 years, where she worked in forensics.
“It’s pretty exciting to be where you are right now,” Broyles told the group of middle-school students. “You have the ability to change the world and communicate with people around the globe all from the single device you hold in your hand.”
Growing up in small town of 225 people, Broyles didn’t have a smart phone, but someone believed in her ability and that’s all it takes to be successful. She said too many times children are told “math is hard” and that’s all it takes to derail students from careers that involve STEM, particularly computer science and math.
“Women in STEM career earn 33% more than than woman in non-STEM careers. There is the opportunity to earn a lot of money and you can often work from home in your pajamas while you pet your dog,” Broyles said. “Computer science touches every other career out there from agriculture to marketing.”
Vernon Habersertzer, an information security engineer for Wells Fargo, spent nine years in cyber security at Wal-Mart and six years at Mercy Health System. He said on any given day companies of all sizes are threatened by hackers and potential data breaches that can wreak havoc on their operations. Habersertzer said he’s a hunter, in that he spends his days searching for potential threats to his companies computer network which has about 400,000 computer addresses. He said hackers today range from organized crime rings, to savvy hactivists acting for political reasons. The damage they can cause with a single attack can bring down the largest of companies and tracing the attack back to the original source can be difficult.
“All an attacker needs to act is a weakness or some vulnerability in the network link,” he said.
Perhaps the most common way networks like the Target Stores security breach begin with an email attack. He said hackers use email to get inside and then imbed the spyware in a link or attachment that once is activated makes the computer available to the hacker. Habersertzer said the infected computer becomes a beacon to the hacker and will give them access to places they could never otherwise access. He said a company can be targeted by hackers as many of 300 to 400 times a day.
In the case with the Target Stores breach the hackers got into the retailers network though a weakness they found in one of its vendors – an air conditioning company. Once the hacker group out of the Ukraine took control of the vendor’s computer they were then able to get into Target’s network and entering the customer payment records, according to David Hausam, a technical expert in cyber intelligence at Wal-Mart, who also spoke at Friday’s event.
Hausam told the students how to protect themselves from cyber adversaries. He spent 21 years in the U.S. military, where he learned about cyber intelligence, which at one time was mostly a military or government job, he said. He warned the students that mobile breaches are among the easier to pull off for cyber criminals. He said sites like Instagram that are hosted offsite are among those with weak links.
“If you use Instagram on a mobile device, always use the app. Don’t go to the browser and search for their website. Also be careful about opening links on you mobile phone,” Hausam warned.
He said Android users are more vulnerable than Apple because of weaknesses at Google. He said the Android device is so widely used around the world that by the time 50% of its users realize the attack, a year has passed.
“That is why hackers love Android systems. They will not stop hacking,” Hausam said.
All of the cyber experts who spoke to the students on Friday encouraged them to check out sites like code.org where they can tinker with code writing and basic computer science. But most of all the experts warned the students to avoid using “public” settings on social media sites because that’s another way adolescents are often targeted.
This is the fifth year NWACC has held the cyber security events to help recruit future talent to the industry and to share the dangers that lurk for adolescents who are active online.