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ODU School of Cybersecurity

Brian K. Payne column: ODU's new school of cybersecurity addresses a basic human need in today's connected world

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Psychologists long have recognized that security is a basic human need. In the absence of security, we are unable to fully connect with our peers, improve our communities, develop new businesses or engage in other activities we might equate with societal progress.

This extends to cybersecurity — for individuals and businesses alike. Given that October has been designated as Cybersecurity Awareness Month, it makes sense to start the month thinking about how cybersecurity impacts all of us.

Under President John R. Broderick’s leadership, Old Dominion University has drawn attention to the importance of the topic and its growing relevance to our state and economy by launching a School of Cybersecurity on Oct. 1.

Countless studies have found that many of us spend most of our waking hours tied one way or another to electronic devices. The connections between our physical lives and digital devices, while nothing more than electrons at the simplest level, require us to imagine new ways to protect ourselves, our homes and our businesses.

These electrons have resulted in most of us behaving differently today than we did two decades ago. These new patterns of behavior, by themselves, do not necessarily warrant viewing cybersecurity as a human need. However, we are not the only ones acting differently because of technological changes. Criminals also are behaving differently.

Put simply, criminals found new ways to commit crime. They don’t even have to leave their rooms to hurt us while we are resting in the comfort of our homes or working in our seemingly secure businesses.

In the past, feeling safe meant not going out late at night, being cautious in dangerous areas, purchasing home security systems and engaging in other self-protection behaviors. Some people even buy watchdogs, a practice justified by studies showing that homes with barking dogs are less likely to be burglarized.

Today, we spend our precious dollars on virus protection for our computers and businesses across the country spend billions protecting their technology infrastructure from intrusion.

Even with these crime prevention efforts, FBI data show that Americans reported losing $10.2 billion to computer-related crimes between 2015 and 2019. A study of businesses by the Ponemon Institute found equally dramatic losses worldwide.

Common responses to traditional crimes include the development of neighborhood watch programs, “see something/say something” initiatives and community policing strategies. One common theme across these security efforts is the role of the community — it is central to crime prevention.

A similar model must be used to promote cybersecurity: Citizens and the community must be central in efforts to secure our critical infrastructure. In many ways, rather than a neighborhood watch, a nationwide watch is needed to respond to cyberthreats.

Such an approach is needed for three simple reasons. First, cybersecurity affects all of us. On several occasions, I have heard cybersecurity speakers start a presentation with a statement something like this: “There are two types of cybersecurity victims — those who know they have been victimized and those who don’t know they have been victimized.” Because everyone is impacted by cybercrime, we all need to work together to stop these crimes.

Second, it is imperative that we have a nationwide discussion about cybersecurity. No location is safe from cybercrime and no individual fully can hide from the risks. While a barking dog might keep a burglar out of our home, it’s not going to keep a cybercriminal from accessing our devices. A community-based response, though, can prevent cybercrime. Just as a neighborhood can join forces to suppress traditional offending, as a nation, we can join together to insist that businesses and policymakers protect us from cyber victimization.

Third, any one of us inadvertently could place others at risk in the cyber environment if we let our cyber guard down. When discussing cyberthreats, my information technology colleagues use the acronym PICNIC — Problem In Chair Not In Computer. Turning this around, we also might say that the security solution is in the chair, not in the computer.

The focus of ODU’s School of Cybersecurity will be on generating research to promote better understanding about cybersecurity, producing diverse graduates to help fill the 54,000 cybersecurity job vacancies in the commonwealth, and identifying and developing solutions to improve our security in the cyber world.

After all, cybersecurity now is a basic human need.

Brian K. Payne is vice provost for academic affairs at Old Dominion University and director of the Coastal Virginia Center for Cyber Innovation, a regional node of the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative. Contact him at:


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