Graphic by Nicole Laursen
Aug. 25, 2021
Cybersecurity awareness key as students head back to class
As students get ready to head back to campus this fall, a new associate professor at the Schulich School of Engineering is reminding them about cybersecurity and safety.
Dr. Hadis Karimipour, PhD, says the digital world has changed dramatically in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While people around the world took advantage of working and studying from home, that extra time on personal computers opened up opportunities for cyber attacks.
“I believe awareness plays a key role here,” Karimipour said. “When you talk to an average person about protecting their digital assets, you will probably hear ‘why do I have to care about that’ or ‘I have nothing attractive for a cyber criminal.’ However, with our everyday dependence on technology and security, no one can make that statement.”
Thankfully, Karimipour adds emerging technology has made it easier for everyone to get ransomware and other malware tools to thwart those attacks.
Back to the basics
With instant access to information at our fingertips, Karimipour is hoping students realize that they need to develop basic skills and knowledge around cybersecurity.
“We may never go back to the way we were working before, and that means even more exposure to digital systems,” she said. “That makes the training in this domain even more important.”
In her role at UCalgary and as the Chair in Secure and Reliable Networked Engineering Systems, Karimipour is hoping to teach students about being proactive and what workplaces expect of their employees in the digital age.
“I usually see that students struggle with some cybersecurity topics because they find it too technical,” she stated. “I’ll try to simplify everything with targeted, actionable and easy-to-understand instructions.”
Lessons for everyone
Karimipour hopes the broader community also learns about the risks associated with a more prevalent online life.
“Even as an average person, your personal information is valuable to cyber criminals,” she said. “Stolen information can be used to create credit accounts, get access to your bank accounts or create fake social media profiles.”
In more sophisticated cases, hackers can use your information or system as a bridge or channel to get access to larger organizations.
“If a security breach happens due to your mistake, you are somewhat responsible for it - at least ethically,” Karimipour said. “Moreover, there are lots of different hacking techniques like social engineering, which focus on hacking people rather than systems. Awareness plays a key role here.”
Karimipour’s expertise in the field recently led to her being named one of Canada’s “Top 20 Women in Cybersecurity” for 2021 by IT World Canada.
“To be honest, I was happy and, at the same, surprised because cybersecurity is a broad area with lots of different domains of expertise,” she said. “Although there are generally fewer women involved in the field, and we see a huge gender gap, there are still lots of female experts in both academia and industry. It was my pleasure to be recognized among all of these successful female experts.”
This recognition is the latest in a long list of accomplishments, including having a leadership role as the chair of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Women in Engineering, writing two books, and co-founding the startup GriffiniX Ltd.
In July, Karimipour joined the University of Calgary after four years at the University of Guelph. She was already familiar with Calgary, having been a postdoctoral fellow here in 2016-2017.
“We’re excited to have Dr. Karimipour back as a member of the UCalgary team,” said Dr. Bill Rosehart, dean of the Schulich School of Engineering. “Her expertise in cybersecurity will be a great asset to our students and staff as we all navigate the world’s digital transformation.”