After global cyberattack, GVSU aims to educate ‘next generation of protectors’

Posted at 6:01 PM, May 15, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-15 18:01:26-04

ALLENDALE, Mich. — In order to stop the world's next massive cyberattack, you need to get into the mind of the attacker, says Paul Leidig, director of Grand Valley State University's School of Computing and Information Systems.

Following the attack that crippled businesses and governments across the globe last Friday, Leidig says the next attack is imminent, it's only a matter of time.

"It’s not ‘will there be another hack?’" he said. "It’s ‘how soon will it be and how big will it be and who is it going to hit?’”

So the timing couldn't be better for Leidig and his team of professors who are organizing a new concentration of study for the school's computing and information systems master's degree program, specifically focused on cybersecurity.

“These attacks can spread very quickly," said assistant professor Vijay Bhuse, in reference to Friday's "ransomware" attack that hit more than 100 countries, even wreaking havoc on hospitals in the U.K.

“The moment you click on a link you can open the door to an attacker to get into your system.”

In February, GVSU announced the new cybersecurity concentration. A new lab will provide students hands-on experience to simulate fake cyber attacks in order to learn how to defend against them.

This weekend's attacks further prove the skillsets needed to thwart such an attack are needed now more than ever, Leidig said.

“What people haven’t realized yet, as we’ve become a digital society—people are familiar with their private life being digital—organizations have become digital," he said.

“It’s broader than just security of your servers and your network… it’s how to protect your data, how to protect your money. Think banks, medical records, anywhere where data is the lifeline of an organization."

Friday's attack was ultimately stopped, in large part, due to the actions of 28-year-old research engineer Darien Huss, who identified a so-called "kill switch" while working from his home near Fremont.

As far as Leidig is concerned, GVSU's sharpened focus on cybersecurity could yield an entire class of people like Darien Huss.

"It’s where we want to find the next generation of protectors," Leidig said.

Classes will begin in fall 2017.