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Think Cybersecurity is About Technology? When it Comes to Russia, it’s About Democracy

A Cybersecurity Student posing for a headshot in a pink polo
Noah Morton '21, Cybersecurity Management

New technology won’t be the weapon used to battle the misinformation that’s spewed on the internet, says Entrepreneurship and Strategy Professor James Norrie. Rather, students will need to be comfortable diving into conversations about morality.

Thomas Csuri ’22 is no stranger to the conversation about cybersecurity and international interference. While he’s diving into lectures in his Cyber Law class or getting deep into studies on Cybersecurity policies, the Information Technology Management student at York College of Pennsylvania is already applying the things he’s learned in the classroom.

Serving in the Army Reserve, Csuri has seen the repercussions of Russian interference and security hacking. Whether it’s misinformation such as seen on social media during the past two presidential elections or data breeches such as the recent SolarWinds software update hack, there is reason for the general public to be concerned, Csuri says.

“It’s not a problem that’s going away,” he says. “It’s going to get worse. There are really no repercussions for those who run these operations. It’s important we not only understand what’s going on, but then determine the best course of action going forward.”

Those steps forward may not be the most obvious, says James Norrie, Professor of Entrepreneurship and Strategy at York College. In his recent Spartan Speaks presentation on cybersecurity,  Norrie says it won’t be new technology that is the weapon used to battle misinformation and data breaches; rather, students will have to be comfortable diving into conversations about morality and democracy.

“At York College, we talk as much about human hacks as technology hacks,” Norrie says. “When an outside source like Russia can influence and impact people’s decision-making, it’s not necessarily about technology anymore. That’s why we learn about psychology, sociology, law, geopolitics, and political science.”

A future in cybersecurity

Noah Morton ’21 sees cybersecurity as the next item on the agenda for assessing the overall health of the United States. But, he says, because people don’t understand what’s often going on behind the scenes, there’s not enough pressure on the government to act more urgently.

As a Cybersecurity Management major, Morton hopes to work for the National Security Agency (NSA), where the impact of misinformation and data breaches are a matter of national concern. “I know it will take time to make changes in policy and understand the next phase in how misinformation gets distributed,” Morton says. “It’s an ever-changing landscape, and that’s what interests me about it. Nothing about this gets stale. We can’t spend too much time thinking about the last issue—Russia and others are already planning the next one.”

The battle isn’t in heightened firewalls or stronger security systems, Norrie adds. Rather, it’s over people’s minds. Social media misinformation for the presidential elections was just one vehicle, he says.

“Any time there are issues of discontent, whether it be related to vaccines, racial tensions, socio-economical divides, or any number of topics of debate, it’s an opportunity for Russia to interfere,” Norrie says. “Part of the battle is getting people to understand when they are consuming information that is real versus information designed to change how they think.”

Changing the game

Cybersecurity can’t be approached as a technology problem, Norrie says. After so long, the technology that created the issue will no longer be able to solve it. And that’s where we stand, he says.

Instead, Norrie says, it takes great minds to come together and be willing to have tough conversations that will make the difference. “This is a game of thinking,” he says. “The next move has to be made by really smart people who think about the problem in a different way.”