Take 5 with Ulku Clark
Ulku Clark on cybersecurity
ULKU YAYLACICEGI CLARK is a self-acknowledged lover of puzzles and brain games. She tries to carve out five minutes from her busy schedule each day to challenge herself on mental fitness app Lumosity. She sees a direct connection between her interest in brain challenges and her professional field, cybersecurity.
“A lot of cybersecurity is connecting the dots to make sense of things,” says Clark, a member of the University of North Carolina Wilmington management information systems faculty and head of the Center for Cyber Defense Education. She believes too many individuals and businesses don’t take digital security seriously enough.
“Everyone really needs to develop a security mindset,” she says. “Use multi-factor authentication whenever possible and do not re-use the same username-password combination across multiple accounts. Understand and apply the guidance of ‘length equals strength’ when it comes to passwords.
“Every clickable link presents risk – don’t click unless you know where it goes,” Clark adds.
The professor encourages people to think about safety in the context of jogging.
“You can go jogging at night wearing dark clothing, sunglasses, nothing reflective, and run in the middle of a busy, high-speed roadway,” she says. “You can also go jogging at night wearing a reflective vest, carrying a flashlight, and stay away from busy roads. You can go out and jog safely, jog unsafely, or jog somewhere within a context along a continuum that extends from complete safety (if such a thing exists) to complete unsafety. Similarly, you can do any cyber-related activity with a higher or a lower degree of emphasis on security.”
Since she began teaching at UNCW, Clark has helped expand the university’s information technology offerings and has helped the Cameron School of Business’s response to increasing demand from employers for graduates ready to tackle cybersecurity issues. She has seen the curriculum develop from a master’s degree-only focus to a shift that includes undergraduate education as well. Today, UNCW offers an MBA and an executive MBA in cybersecurity as well as an undergraduate minor in the field.
“Students that pair their major with a cybersecurity minor are graduating with critical thinking abilities that would mitigate the risks caused by human factor against cyber threats to an acceptable level,” she explains.
The undergraduate program grew from a competition in 2011 that some of Clark’s students participated in. The first year was, as she says, “a learning experience.” The second year, her students were better prepared and placed second in the competition, which involved schools from the seven-state Southeast region.
“After that, there was a lot of interest from students to be in our Cyber Defense Club,” she says. “They wanted more classes and we offered them. We hired more faculty and established the cybersecurity minor, with cybersecurity concentrations for students in other majors. Everything these days is digital: you have to be aware of it. It’s like law, which applies to everything but you don’t have to be a lawyer.”
Clark has always been interested in math and information systems. After earning a bachelor’s degree in her native Turkey, she came to the University of Texas at Dallas, for graduate school. That choice wasn’t accidental: she had lived in Dallas for a year as a foreign exchange student in high school. Even though there was culture shock in adjusting to life in the U.S. and the realities of an urban high school, Clark grew to love the experience and chose to return for her graduate education and career.
Life in Wilmington has proved a good fit. It’s where she landed after earning her Ph.D., it’s where she met her husband, and it’s where she is raising her two sons, aged six and eight.
“We love going to the beach, even in winter if the weather permits,” she says. “We like trying new restaurants.”
And Wilmington is full of small and medium-sized businesses, statistically the ripest targets for ransomware and cloud attacks, says Clark. But she’s determined to develop her students into cyber warriors who can protect individuals, businesses, organizations, and governments from unseen threats.
Take 5 with Ulku Clark
CAN YOU EXPLAIN THE INTERCONNECTEDNESS OF MANAGEMENT INFORMATION SYSTEMS AND CYBERSECURITY?
“Where MIS is focused on how people, technology, and organizations interact and interrelate, cybersecurity in the MIS context is concerned with having people … trained to choose good passwords, recognize phishing emails, understand how to report cybersecurity incidents, etc. It’s also about ensuring that technology is correctly emplaced, configured, maintained, etc.; and that organizations have sound policies and procedures related to the securing of information systems and the secure use of those systems by people.”
WHAT IS UNCW DOING TO HELP GROW CYBERSECURITY?
“There is a fairly universally recognized gap of about 600,000 between the size of the current cybersecurity workforce and what’s needed. To help grow the cybersecurity workforce, UNCW has been increasing the number of education path offerings over the past few years and they now stand at five: an Information Technology major with Cybersecurity Concentration – this curriculum path is related to UNCW’s designation by NSA/DHS as a Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense; a Computer Science major with Security Concentration; a Cybersecurity minor – open to all UNCW majors; an MBA with Cybersecurity Specialization; and a Cybersecurity major (that begins next fall).”
THE CYBERSECURITY PROGRAM PULLS FROM BOTH UNCW’S COMPUTER SCIENCE AND INFORMATION SYSTEMS CURRICULA. HOW DOES THIS CROSS-DISCIPLINARY APPROACH WORK IN PRACTICE IN THIS PROGRAM?
“We have a number of hybrid programs offered by CS and Information Systems (IS) faculty. In the undergraduate level IT and cybersecurity majors, and in the graduate level MSCSIS programs are examples of the CS and IS faculty collaboration. In these programs, the courses taught by CS faculty focus on technical aspects while the courses taught by IS faculty focus on managerial aspects.”
WHAT TRENDS IN THE CYBERSECURITY INDUSTRY ARE YOU SEEING?
“Ransomware has been a major issue for small- and medium-sized businesses in the past years, and unfortunately continues to be a big threat. The increased adoption of cloud (technology) will lead to more attacks towards the cloud. More than 98% of U.S. businesses are small and medium sized. With limited or no security measures, they are easy targets for attackers. Through the breaches of these businesses, there will be more supply chain attacks. With the increased population of smart cars, we expect more attacks towards the automotive industry.”
WHAT ARE MISTAKES INDIVIDUALS AND/OR BUSINESSES MAKE WITH REGARD TO KEEPING THEIR DATA SECURE?
“The most important mistake might be approaching the operation of a digital device too casually; everyone really needs to develop a security mindset. Use multi-factor authentication whenever possible; do not reuse the same username/password combination across multiple accounts. Understand and apply the guidance of length equals strength when it comes to passwords. Every clickable link presents risk – don’t click unless you know where it goes.”
To view more of photographer Terah Hoobler’s work, go to terahhoobler.com.
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