When everything is connected to the internet, everything is at risk. Sometimes, the hackers get us piecemeal, through our smartphones and credit cards. Sometimes, the toll is bigger. Last year, the entire city of Atlanta was crippled by a massive ransomware attack. Two years before that, it was Russian meddling in US elections.
According to a 2016 report by Norton, there are twenty-three victims of malicious cyber activity every second. And yet, incredibly, “most computer science departments don’t even teach security,” said Tufts senior lecturer Ming Chow. Something, Chow added, “is clearly terribly wrong.”
Tufts is changing that. This fall, the department announced a new cybersecurity focus for students who want to specialize in the field. Led by Chow, the track includes not only technical computer science coursework, but also a half-dozen electives—many of them interdisciplinary—to help students place that knowledge in a global context. For instance, a course on cybersecurity and cyberwarfare, taught cooperatively by Chow and the political science department’s Jeffrey Taliaferro, looks at the effects of technology on statecraft and international relations. Other courses explore the ramifications of cyberthreats in the legal and civil arenas. In the new world of cybersecurity, “both breadth and depth are important,” Chow said.
The change can’t come soon enough. The firm Cybersecurity Ventures reports that, unless current trends change, we’re heading toward a massive worldwide shortage of cybersecurity professionals, with 3.5 million unfilled positions by 2021. Tufts graduates will be there to help.
Bridging security and public Policy
In 2017, Tufts University welcomed cyber policy expert Susan Landau, author of Listening In: Cybersecurity in an Insecure Age, as a “bridge professor”—a position designed to connect computer science to The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. “People in cybersecurity used to think that the solution to cybersecurity was simply to do better, stronger technical systems,” Landau said. “Over time, we realized there’s a lot of law and policy that impact security questions.”
Tufts has long been known for its strong international relations programs, but connecting them to computer science is a particularly innovative step, explained Ming Chow, who played a role in the move. “You usually don’t see the two together at all.”
Now, Landau is teaching many of the new law and policy courses that make up the computer science department’s new cybersecurity focus—like Privacy in the Digital Age, Cyber in the Civil Sector, and Cyberlaw and Cyber Policy. “A bridge from something like Fletcher to computer science was a big jump,” Landau said, “but Tufts did it.”
5 Tips to Protect Your Digital Identity
Susan Landau offers these basic rules for securing your smartphones and other devices.
1. Accept automatic updates for everything you use. “Don’t say I’m too busy now—just do it.”
2. Think before you click on a link or open an attachment—that’s the way most cyber exploits work.
3. Use two-factor authentication to log in to online accounts. Avoid text messages as a second factor; attackers can intercept them.
4. Be very careful about browsing on public Wi-Fi. Use a VPN.
5. Activate features such as Find My iPhone and an automatic activation lock, which prevents Find My iPhone from being shut off by thieves. It’s possible to circumvent such protections, but they have dramatically reduced theft of smartphones and digital identities.