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Alumna Interprets Cybersecurity on Capitol Hill
Jessica Wilkerson ’13, who graduated with a major in policy studies from the Maxwell School and minors in computer science and mathematics, is watching software envelop the world from an interesting vantage point—atop Capitol Hill. As an oversight associate for the Committee on Energy and Commerce, she advises on cybersecurity policy matters from her uniquely informed perspective.
“In Washington, we have policy leaders making decisions and drafting legislation about technology. I realized that they need people with the ability to translate complex technology issues for these policy makers. I’m one of a handful of people with a solid technological understanding of these issues, so when people start talking about any number of cybersecurity issues, I can sit down and explain what’s really happening,” says Wilkerson.
In addition to having a strong understanding of cybersecurity trends and events, Wilkerson was part of one of the biggest hacks of 2015 herself—one that illustrates just how severe the risks of cyberattack really are. “Over five million federal employees lost records of their fingerprints to hackers. Cyberattacks like this have the potential to be life-altering for those that are affected. For example, all of the info collected for my security clearance has been compromised, including information about my family and friends. It’s all in the wrong hands and it is bound to affect us somewhere down the line,” she says.
“If someone gets your credit card information, they can ruin your credit score and you have to spend time sorting it out. But if someone steals your fingerprints and every known associate you have, that’s much more than just pretending to be you to get a credit card. That is someone who can take over your identity or even physically find you if they wanted to. I don’t think people comprehend how much data we give out about ourselves every day. We don’t know what the consequences will be, but I think they will be severe.”
Wilkerson recently returned to Syracuse University to meet with cybersecurity experts Susan Older and Shiu-Kai Chin, associate professor and professor, respectively, in electrical engineering and computer science, both of whom keep her engaged with the University. “When I was here working with the cybersecurity faculty, they had a profound impact on how I view these issues. Since I now work in this field, it’s very helpful for me to come back and talk with them to get their perspective on the issues,” she says.
The challenge that Wilkerson and others face is staying a step ahead of cybercriminals, and this underscores how vital skilled cybersecurity professionals are in our interconnected world. Wilkerson puts it this way: “We are in an arms race with the cybercriminals. The good guys who are trying to protect our information always have to get it right, the bad guys only have to get it right once. We have to do everything we can to prepare for the next threat while minimizing the damage when these attacks happen. That is why I came to Capitol Hill—to help make these unbelievable technologies as safe as possible for all Americans.”