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From the Experts

How to be a responsible—and secure!—cyber citizen

Spring 2020

Twenty years have passed since newscasts around the world foretold the impending doom that awaited us in Y2K. There was no Twitter, no Facebook, no iPhone, no Android. Online banking and (online) retail had yet to make the leap to commonality or culture. In the end, the prophesies were overwrought, but the storehouses of canned food and bottled water did little to prepare us for the exponential changes we would see over the next two decades.

We have cameras, flashlights and the World Wide Web in our pockets. Our telephones (is it still fair to call them telephones?) know our exact location, the number of steps we have taken, and the rhythm of our heartbeat. Depending on our latest Google searches, these devices also know our greatest fears, our greatest desires, our deepest secrets and our sincerest hopes. We can listen to limitless music, view endless hours of video, read infinite information about a world now free from the bonds of boredom. It’s honestly overwhelming to consider how vastly the world has changed since Y2K and how different life will be for our grandchildren than it was for our grandparents.

Unfortunately, this unbound contact with the world grants corporations, coders and even criminals copious access to each of our daily lives. A thief no longer needs to wear a mask. Skimmers on pumps, shimmers on ATMs, spammers on email, scammers on the telephone—20 years post-Y2K has brought us unimagined technology and with it, unanticipated vulnerabilities.

Adversaries often prey on us when we are most vulnerable and distracted; note recent accounts of people who have downloaded malware disguised as an interactive coronavirus-tracking map. Legitimate versions of these maps exist, such as one produced by Johns Hopkins University. It is notable that the actual map does not require you to download any additional files.

The National Security Agency describes a need for 600,000 additional cyber professionals in both public and private enterprises, such as the FBI, municipal governments, banks, medical centers and practically every entity that deals with sensitive data. Yet these challenges are too vast for governments and multi-national corporations to address alone. Solutions require dynamic partnerships that transcend traditional boundaries and include every citizen. Even the way in which we educate our children is open canon for the pioneers and dreamers in our classrooms, both teachers and students who will blaze the trails of our digital century.

During the summer of 2019, I directed a new initiative at Bellarmine: the GenCyber Knights Program. A collaboration between the School of Education and Bellarmine’s Computer Science Department that was funded through an NSA and National Science Foundation grant, GenCyber Knights helped 37 teachers representing 11 school systems to better understand how cyber citizenship concepts fit into their curricula, including the scope of potential threats and the growing number of career options for their students. In the five-day experience, the middle- and high-school teachers explored concepts as learners, debating case studies and applying cyber concepts such as “Defense in Depth” and “Think like an Adversary.” Dr. Eric Wong and Pat Burton, teachers at Mercy Academy in Louisville, and Dr. Rob Kelly, an assistant professor of computer science at Bellarmine, also provided instruction.

Guest speakers included FBI Cyber Supervisory Special Agent Stephen Oakes, who explained everything from small-scale measures, such as ways to protect credit or debit card numbers, to large-scale cases, such as the 2019 ransom-ware cyberattacks on municipalities in Florida and Georgia that resulted in cities paying between $400,000 and $600,000 in Bitcoin per attack. These are cases that could have been prevented with more robust cyber security infrastructure and training. 

Attorney Robert Dibert of Frost Brown Todd, LLC talked about the legalities of cyberspace and the effects that the growing field has had on other areas of industry. Rob Bobenmoyer, chief information security officer at Republic Bank, discussed the importance of encouraging a new generation of cyber professionals, emphasizing that the greatest demand is for innovative thinkers and problem-solvers, because he can always train new employees in coding languages.

A new decade is beginning. In light of the many advancements made since Y2K, the epic tale of our future’s history is being written in our midst. We must prepare ourselves for the inevitable changes and challenges by empowering educators to equip students to be critical-thinking cyber citizens. In the meantime, consider ways in which your own data could be compromised. Then, take a moment to appreciate that flashlight in your pocket. 


Dr. Jessica Ivy is an assistant professor of mathematics and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics) Education in Bellarmine’s Annsley Frazier Thornton School of Education. Her scholarship areas include the integration of technology for teaching and the use of digital fabrication technology in the classroom. The NSA and NSF have funded another GenCyber Knights camp for summer 2020.  

Written by Jessica Ivy, Ph.D

Tags: From the Experts , STEAM