Understanding Cybersecurity—Not Just for Tech Experts

Cyber Security

Intensive focus on cybersecurity by the government and accompanying investment has made the field big business throughout the Baltimore-D.C. corridor. In fact, many experts say Maryland is becoming the Silicon Valley of cybersecurity. This January, Loyola will tap into this hungry market with a new  graduate Cybersecurity Certificate program designed for leaders of all backgrounds and areas of expertise. Here, Michael Herring, a U.S. Government expert on cybersecurity strategy and an affiliate professor in the Sellinger School’s information systems and operations management department, explains why understanding cybersecurity is critical for all business leaders—not just those directly responsible for information technology issues.

There are currently more than two billion daily Internet users, nearly a third of the world’s population. Cyberspace now influences nearly every aspect of our lives as computers, tablets, and smartphones play larger and larger roles in our work, our education, and our recreation.

Cyberspace crosses geographic, social, and economic boundaries—and it has created a market that continues to grow at an astonishing pace. E-commerce has generated more than 20 percent of Gross Domestic Product growth in mature economies over the past five years. In the U.S. alone, e-commerce sales totaled $165.4 billion in 2010, up 14.8 percent from 2009.

In addition to the revenues generated from e-commerce, today’s businesses rely on cyberspace for communications, marketing, services, supply chain management, data storage, and operations. Businesses live in cyberspace along with their employees, customers, partners, suppliers, competitors, and the general public worldwide.

Unfortunately, they also share this space with criminals, terrorists, anarchists, bored teenagers, unfriendly nations, and others who can do significant harm to a company. In a May 2009 speech, U.S. President Barack Obama said, “It's been estimated that last year alone cyber criminals stole intellectual property from businesses worldwide worth up to $1 trillion.”  

What’s more, the Internet security firm Symantec estimates that private citizens lose almost $400 billion a year to cyber crime. President Obama has declared that the “cyber threat is one of the most serious economic and national security challenges we face as a nation” and that “America's economic prosperity in the 21st century will depend on cybersecurity.” Building on the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative launched by the Bush Administration, the Obama Administration has funded numerous activities aimed at defending the nation in cyberspace, including the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE), various research and development programs, and partnerships with private industry designed to secure government networks from malicious cyber perpetrators. The Department of Defense (DOD) is so concerned about the cyber threat that it established a new sub-unified command—a command committed specifically to an assigned area—to “ensure U.S./Allied freedom of action in cyberspace and deny the same to our adversaries.”

This intensive focus on cybersecurity by the government and the accompanying investment has made cybersecurity big business in the Baltimore-D.C. corridor. Maryland is becoming the Silicon Valley of cybersecurity, and the market is calling for innovation. Existing large defense contractors have created cybersecurity divisions, and many startups have formed to meet the growing need for cybersecurity expertise.

Unfortunately, while there's a lot of opportunity in this white-hot field, there are still not enough qualified workers to meet demand. While the DOD has formed specialized schools to train the cyber warriors needed to fill the military ranks, the private sector is left competing for a tight pool of qualified high-tech specialists and workers to meet its needs.

That’s where education comes in. Area universities have begun to launch degree programs in cybersecurity, ranging from deep technical programs to those focused on training business leaders in the essentials of cybersecurity. The NICE program is bringing cybersecurity education to high schools, encouraging more students to enter the necessary technical fields. Businesses are applying private sector resources to build an expert cyber workforce that can meet the rising demand for cybersecurity services. Loyola’s program is open to any business professional seeking management-level certification and looking to learn more about information assurance in the broader field of cybersecurity—including current or future professionals responsible for ensuring the security of data in such areas as banking, finance, technology, engineering, human resources, and other fields.

Going forward, business leaders must have a clear understanding of cybersecurity to steer their Internet-dependent companies effectively. Knowledge of the threat posed to their bottom lines by cybersecurity breeches and a general knowledge of the techniques used both to perform cyber attacks and defend against them are critical. Leading a business today while ignorant of cyber threat or the means of protecting a company from that threat is not unlike walking blindfolded onto a busy interstate highway–you might walk safely for a while, but eventually a collision will occur.