Our data is under constant attack from hackers and scammers. Arkansans are on the front lines; including these cyber pros who protect in their own unique ways.
Jacob Starks is a cybersecurity engineer at Bank of England.
After graduating from Joe T. Robinson High School in Little Rock, Starks joined the U.S. Navy and served as an operations specialist for four years. His role involved tracking submarines and aircraft, which sparked his interest in IT. He then received a bachelor’s degree in business management from the University of North Texas and a master’s degree in information systems security from the University of Maryland. Upon completing his undergraduate degree, he decided to reenter the military, this time with the U.S. Air Force, and served for three years as a digital network intelligence analyst, where he worked alongside the National Security Agency (NSA) to protect various government networks.
Starks chose to pursue a job at Bank of England because of the opportunities to help businesses protect their sensitive information. “I’ve always been a ‘behind-the-scenes’ type of guy,” he says, “and in this role, you are truly behind-the-scenes but have the biggest impact; I love that about my job.”
As a cybersecurity engineer, Starks manages the software that protects the bank’s network from cyberattacks. He is also a part of a triage team that responds when anyone tries to launch cyberattacks against the bank’s network.
“The challenges are endless,” he says. “It requires a deep understanding of the network I’m protecting. It’s a game of critical thinking all day. I spend a lot of the time thinking like a hacker in order to see the weak spots in our network, so that I can focus my attention on how to harden those weak spots.”
Mariam McLellan is a cybersecurity apprentice at Arvest.
McLellan graduated from the University of Arkansas with a bachelor’s degree in information systems. She took a job with Arvest Bank as an IT business analyst, which had her developing information security dashboards.
“Information security metrics are focused on providing critical insights to leadership,” McLellan says. “We target a goal or business objective...and then use historical data to determine what is impacting the success of our goal, both positively and negatively.”
While in this role, McLellan took the CompTIA Security+ test for information security. As she studied, she found herself drawn to the threat and vulnerability side of cybersecurity, but she didn’t know how to transition into that job. In Jan. 2021, Arvest announced their partnership with Forge Institute and the Arkansas Center for Data Science to launch a Cybersecurity Apprenticeship Program.
“I was thrilled to be selected to participate,” McLellan says. “I was able to learn from professionals who taught me how to apply information security and cybersecurity tactics using the powerful tools they introduced us to.”
McLellan is now involved in Arvest’s information security metrics and reporting development, and she works alongside the vulnerability management team.
“Over the past year, I went from having zero knowledge in the realm to being able to have confident conversations with experts and leadership,” she says. “Once you have a good baseline, you start to realize how important information security is and just how big of an impact you can make for your team and your customers each day.”
The rise in cyber threats has created an unprecedented demand for cybersecurity specialists. Data breaches, malware infections and software vulnerabilities are common in today's technology, and colleges and universities are adding new programs each year to help train the next generation of cyber crime fighters. Check out the following noteworthy programs:
UA Little Rock Doubles Down on Cybersecurity
The University of Arkansas at Little Rock has always offered multiple undergraduate and graduate degrees in computer science, but the administration felt the demand for cybersecurity (an essential part of national defense) called for the addition of this exciting new degree program.
“We are confident that the students that graduate from this program are going to be able to step into key technical roles in cybersecurity,” says Dr. Albert Baker, chair of the department of computer science. “We are looking at people who would analyze the threats. We are going to have people who are well qualified to handle threats like this.”
UA Little Rock is also the home to a cyber arena or cyber gym, which is a cloud-based platform that serves high school students and simulates cyberattacks for students to handle. It will also host virtual summits of cybersecurity experts, help promote Women in STEM and offer family STEM nights and other future programs.
“We hope to create a cybersecurity-related escape room and travel to all four corners of the state for outreach in typically underserved communities,” says Sandra Leiterman, managing director of the UA Little Rock Cyber Gym.
Arkansas Tech University Adds Cybersecurity Degree
Students of the program will graduate with an understanding of the techniques used to compromise and infiltrate systems as well as the proven methods to protect data. The bachelor's of science degree in CSEC includes courses in programming, data structures, operating systems, mathematics, wireless technologies, forensics and incident response, building secure software, cyber defense and networking with a focus on theory and hands-on experience.
An associate degree program is also available at the Russellville campus.
Fight Cybercrime With the FBI Through Teen Academy in Little Rock
The Future Agents in Training program gives high school students a comprehensive look into the reality of being a part of the FBI.
Each course is a minimum of eight hours but can be a weeklong program with demonstrations at a local field office. Students are educated on topics including terrorism, cybercrime, public corruption, polygraph exams, evidence response, SWAT and the day-to-day operations of a typical FBI office.
“As I participated in the Future Agents in Training (FAIT) program, it enhanced my knowledge of how the Bureau operates.
"I kept in major contact with many people who fostered my interest with the FBI, which also helped me to my next step...the internship program.
"From that point forward, I realized I couldn’t allow myself to join any other agency but the FBI."
– Ti'Ran Compton, now a FBI Electronic Technician.