MTU cybersecurity can defend American sausage

Developments in biometrics, security, privacy and the evolving nature of warfare have taken many people’s attention away from studies and social time. To glean a bigger picture, I sat down with Yu Cai of the College of Computing and Guy Hembroff, the Director of the ICC (Institute of Computing and Cybersystems). Hembroff stated, “The aim of the ICC is to provide a platform where people can collaborate. A lot of things that we do are security and privacy based in the government sector and healthcare.”

In 2012 Hembroff created the “Health Informatics Graduate Program.” He said, “A big part of it is Cybersecurity. The ICC is one of five groups of research under the College of Computing. I am Director of the Cybersecurity part.” There is a Masters degree in Cybersecurity, and new Bachelor’s degree in the same which began to be offered last year.

The two Michigan Tech faculty discussed the relevance and necessity of cybertechnology, biometrics and privacy, research at MTU and the ability for students to get involved. Much news has come out recently about biometrics and data privacy and topics such as Massachusetts Police being the first in the USA to use a robot dog, and the renewed talk of a threat of cyberwarfare from Iran were talked about. Cai confirmed in general that cyberwar is happening, but that technology can also benefit society.

“Cyberwarfare is a real thing. One of the earliest cases is something called Stuxnet. It was against an Iranian nuclear facility…Its an invisible war. It’s unlike hot war, where you see missiles and ships. This is invisible war but its a real thing,” said Cai, confirming the stark reality of a war behind the scenes.

He elaborated in adding, “The Police and Firemen have been using robots or drones to do a lot of things they were not able to do in the past. Now with the drones it makes things much easier.” He also mentioned a real threat to critical infrastructure, adding that, “Hackers hacked into Ukraine’s power system. Security experts say the same thing could happen to the US power system.”

Hembroff talked about the need of security for people’s mobile devices, including medical devices. He revealed that the, “healthcare market is the most hacked in the public sector…you can do anything because health information has your financial and insurance information.” He went on to say, “You can shock a person with a Pacemaker. You can overdose someone with an Insulin Pump. Protecting patients with these devices is important.”

While many see the necessity of cybertechnology, some still harbor concerns about the need for personal security and data privacy. Currently, there is a forced collection of DNA at the US border to Visa applicants, migrants and unauthorized persons, as well as the announcement of the use of facial recognition at major US airports, and the emergence of national drone policies in the USA and India which cause many concerns.

Cai admitted that privacy concerns and other issues are legitimate, and need to be addressed, but believes that such technology is inevitable. He stated, “Definitely there is a privacy concern. I don’t like my face to be scanned by public cameras…There has always been…privacy concerns and security concerns. Those are legitimate concerns and people should address all these things, but my point is technology will advance whether you like it or not.” He elaborated by saying, “We need to figure out a balance between privacy concerns and the use of technology for public good.”

Hembroff has experience in Telehealth and Telemedicine, among other things. One of his current projects lies in the health sector. “I developed a unique biometric health identifier…which can pull your records by scanning your fingerprint using a camera and then by performing facial recognition to match you with the photo in the records,” he said. Hembroff spoke about the need for data privacy, but also timely data access. He said, “You need to be able to track, encrypt, secure and have access to your data.”

Hembroff remarked, “I don’t think Primary Care will be the same in 7 years. Nobody is going and there is no money in it…Having virtual primary care would be a lot better. You could have your phone and just remote in, and they could look at your AI and make a decision.” He expounded on the need for industry professionals, saying, “There is so much work with the internet of things and now the internet of medical things. Insulin pumps, behavioral health, or a bluetooth Glucometer are all devices that can be used to carry software viruses.”

With a case having been made for the necessity of balance between data availability and privacy, there arose questions regarding how one could get involved and learn more about this growing industry.

There are numerous student organizations who hone their cyberskills. Rat Team is an MTU cybersecurity student group of currently about 20 students that meet weekly. They also attend the National Cyber League competition and placed 8th in roughly 700 nationwide teams.

Cai mentioned the GenCyber Summer Youth Program where, “30 middle and high school students and about 20 Teachers go through a small program, to train future cyber stars. 2 students ranked top 100 out of 4000. That’s a great achievement.”

Cai remarked on another notable event stating, “A sausage manufacturer hired one student. They want people to protect their manufacturing system. A student had a joke in the classroom that, “Cybersecurity can defend American sausage!”

Currently existing technology needs to be defended and it seems that, similar to political revolution, like the hands of a clock we can not go backwards once we begin using technology. Now is the time to get involved in computing and cybersystems for anyone who has an interest in privacy and security, which are fields that have an impact on us all.

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