As Cybersecurity attacks escalate in the Ukraine-Russian war, the need for Cybersecurity awareness only increases.
I spoke with Professor Nicole Hands, a Cybersecurity educator at Purdue University, about this topic. She was initially inspired to educate in Cybersecurity after witnessing major data breaches for Target and Home Depot. Based on those events, along with her technological background, she believed that it would be "intellectually stimulating to see if she could make a contribution in the space of Cybersecurity."
In 2019, after the threat to Ukraine's independence was recognized, Professor Hands was the recipient of a grant from the State Department where she would work with faculty in Ukraine to create defensive security courses as it was "viewed as being in [The United States] National Securities best interest if we could help the Ukrainians to protect themselves." Before she visited Ukraine, most of the Cybersecurity courses taught were all "offensive-related topics; they really didn't have much knowledge about defensive security."
What were the kinds of defensive courses offered?
"One of the things that I did there was to create a capture the flag compeition in which we, somewhat profetically, were given the task of protecting nuclear power plants... the students were the defenders and I then sent out some attacks against their systems and they responded to those things."
Would you say your teaching style is more hands-on and practical?
"For sure, that's my teaching philosophy, and what I found is that in Ukraine, they were still working under Soviet education systems, so they had sort of old fashioned, authoritarian models of education."
"Hands-on sort of active learning type things were not a piece of what they did, so a lot of my work there was to model for them on how to teach in a different way and offer classes in that different way, so we could modernize things a bit."
What advice would you give to any Cybersecurity professional who wants to help?
"The Ukrainian government asked for people to volunteer for Cyber offensive activities... I tend to feel like if we were doing offensive things in order to help prevent more damage inside of Ukraine, that would be appropriate, but if we were doing offensive things that try to damage Russia inside of Russia's borders, that would be an act of war."
"There are careful boundaries that you would have to maintain if you were going to participate in something like that in order to not escalate things further and to bring retaliation down upon your country of origin or wherever you are doing the work from, but there are Telegram groups of people that coordinate their efforts."
In Feburary, Ukrainian government official Mykhailo Fedorov tweeted out a Telegram link calling for digital talents to help fight on the cyber front.
Professor Hands goes on to say, "For every cyber effort that the Russians have put together, the Ukrainians have put together much more sophisticated counter-effort."