Caeley Kates was unequivocal in her praise of Fontbonne University's Cyber Warrior Camp last month.
"I love the camp!" the rising senior from Ursuline Academy said, emphasizing the "love" part, between camp sessions June 23. "It's a really good learning experience."
Under the auspices of Fontbonne math and computer science professor Guanyu Tian, 29, the two-week summer camp introduced Kates and 17 high school-age cohorts to cyber security in defense of governments, businesses and individuals.
They learned the basics of safe online behavior, such as creating strong passwords, recognizing spam and phishing techniques. They learned about advanced topics such as encryption, steganography, and digital forensics. They heard from cyber security experts, such as Emerson digital forensics investigator James Gall, Hussmann's Senior IT security engineer Moses Bulus, Network Technology Partners' director of security services Jeff Fillers, United States Postal Inspection Service cyber security chief Brian Gant and Fontbonne professor Dr. Yi Yang.
Scavenger hunts, games and a field trip to Emerson spiced up the learning sessions, and the cyber warriors left camp with a deep appreciation of cyber security and its role in protecting data. Kates, for one, is sold on a career in computer security.
"I want to major in that in college," she said.
The Cyber Warrior Camp was a good place to start. The cyber security field has grown by leaps and bounds in just the past few years, since 2013 when Fontbonne became the first St. Louis area university to offer a bachelor's degree in cyber security.
Twenty years ago, very few people gave cyber security a second thought, never mind pursuing it as a career. But now, the headlines about hacks and data breaches make it a primary concern.
Yahoo!, Target and Home Depot, just to name a few, have been hacked in recent years, exposing personal information of more than a billion people. In addition, data of individuals and companies have been breached by so-called ransomware: Hijacked computers are held hostage until owners pay ransoms to get back their data.
With the Internet always on, cyber security is a 24/7 necessity to defend reams of data — proprietary, professional, personal and otherwise. Yet, there are far more jobs available than people to fill them. In just one example, indeed.com lists almost 35,000 job openings.
"We have a huge demand in cyber security, many jobs but unfilled," Tian said. "Even in the St. Louis area, we have many gaps between the positions and the supply of professionals."
Fontbonne's Cyber Warrior Camp and similar camps at other colleges help bridge the gap, "exposing the cyber-security concept to our next generation," Tian said.
In addition to a well-paying career, cyber security offers "a sense of pride," said Tian, who earned a doctorate in computer science at Florida State. "You protect someone, your family or a business. When you catch the bad guys, you feel good inside."
There are a lot of bad guys out there.
"We're constantly under attack; there are so many attacks every day," Tian said. "You can fend off all the attacks, but they need just one to get in."
Kates and Cyber Warrior compatriots might one day fend off the attacks. Introduced to computing by her stepfather, who owns an area computer firm, she has taken coding to the next level at Ursuline, with Girls Who Code, AP computer classes, robotics and more.
"Ursuline seems to get getting more and more advanced in the computer world," she said.
>> The weakest link
Though a government agency or a business might have a strong cyber security system, the defense might be defeated by operator error — i.e. the humans.
"There's a phrase we use: 'Think before you click,'" Fontbonne professor Guanyu Tian said. "All it takes is one click (of a link with malware) to bypass all of your defense weapons. You might think you have great security, but someone opens the door for the hacker to get in."
The weak links are easy to strengthen, though.
"Human awareness; we need to educate everyone not just cyber-security students but accountants, sales people, everybody," Tian said. "We need to improve awareness of fundamental procedures, and we need more cyber-security professionals."
Difficult passwords are a good place to start, with uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols, and not using that difficult password on multiple accounts. In addition, links in suspected SPAM emails and even in legitimate-looking emails should not be clicked without confirmation, lest malware, viruses or ransomware be deposited into your system.
"Don't click the link even if the email looks like it's from a friend, your family, or your boss," Tian said.
Easy ways to determine whether an email is legit: a phone call, or really old-school talking — seeking out and confirming it with person who purportedly sent the email.
For information about Fontbonne's cyber security program, visit www.stlouisreview.com/bSw
Fontbonne Community Connection
The Cyber Warrior Camp was made possible by the Fontbonne Community Connection, which awarded professor Guanyu Tian a grant to make it possible. On its website, the group defines itself as "a women's giving circle that believes in the mission of Fontbonne University and, specifically, in the positive effect that higher education has on society. The (Fontbonne Community Connection) acts on these beliefs by awarding financial grants to faculty, staff, and students of the university to advance their educational goals and to promote Fontbonne." For information about the Fontbonne Community Connection, visit www.stlouisreview.com/bSw