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Lakeidra studied management information systems and cyber criminology at the University of Alabama. My focus is on eliminating the barrier of technical lingo and concepts to make cybersecurity awareness accessible to everyone. I have a passion for technology, and I am ecstatic that I have been able to combine that with writing.
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Why you shouldn’t go to College and Cyber Security Basics – Lakeidra Smith | CYBER EDITION
I’m pumped about this episode because you hear me talk a lot about mainstream education, especially in the field that I’m in, cybersecurity and how it’s a little funky because it always keeps you lagging behind when you graduate. If you get a lot of value out of this episode, please share this because that’s how we grow. That’s how we help more people. Share this episode out to three friends and then we’re going to rock this thing and help a lot of people in the world. My guest is the Cyber Consultant. You can find her on social media, @TheCyberConsultant. She is about to graduate from informal education. Her focus is to eliminate the barrier of technical lingo and concepts, which I appreciate. I love the reviews that I sometimes get too that say, “Rick puts things in layman’s terms.” I’ve got that sitting on LinkedIn now. Lakeidra, the Cyber Consultant Smith, how are you?
I’m great. How are you, Rick?
I’m super energized. I’m that way every day. Let’s rock this. Can we do that? I’m so pumped to talk to you. You are just about to graduate. What degree and where from?
Management Information Systems with a Minor in Cyber Criminology from the University of Alabama.
That’s sexy. I’ll tell you why too, because going through the education process, I have a managed security service provider. We’re going public in a few short days or when that’s publishers as we might be that at that point with our IPO. When I talked to other people in my industry, I was on stage and there’s a huge difference in even the competencies in cyber. It’s not like a one-size-fits-all, and that’s the challenge with internal IT folks and with even service providers because there’s no possible way. Especially in a small and medium enterprise to cover all those competencies and stick within a budget for payroll by having the people on board to do what they need to do. What’s your experience? Cyber criminology is awesome. That’s like psychology and the economics of it.
That’s why I love it. I love the mental and the psychology part of it, that’s what drew me to it. Exactly how you were saying, it changes so quickly, everything moves so quickly. The things that I learned in my first semester of it, I was looking at my notes and I was like, “This is outdated.” I found some of my notes, I was like, “This is what I learned? This is what they were teaching us in 201?” Formal education is definitely not all that you need, especially going into the workforce. You need to do your own research and your own things outside of it, which is why I’m very happy that I wrote my own book and did all that research because I found out so many different things I never learned in school.
Your book is A Beginner’s Guide to Cybersecurity – How to Protect Yourself in the Modern World. It sounds like a good starting point for a lot. I’m going to tell you a little story here really quickly. There was a client of mine whose son graduated with a Master’s in Information Systems and he was trying to go out and get a job. He had zero experience because he went through a straight-six years of education and by the time he got out, nobody would hire him. Even though this is such a growing field and there is a shortage right now of people that are in our field. I feel there will be to come because this is such an explosive industry.
Meaning, the need for us continues to exponentially increase every single day. When I was talking to him, I’m like, “You’ve got two problems now.” I was trying to coach him. I’m like, “One, your balance of education and experience is way off base. You still have to go out there and start gaining the experience at a low-level position to build that up, to start to match where your degree is at.” You’ve got all this knowledge in there but your 201 course was already out-of-date by the time you got there. I was like, “You’ve been in school for six years and now you’re six years behind, and your knowledge too because there was never an application.” Do you have friends that are going through this conundrum now?
Definitely, we’ve all been scrambling to get internships every year. We were all like, “We’ve got to get this internship. We’ve got to find internships.” At least that UA, they push internships on us like, “Go get an internship. Go get that experience because you’re not going to find a job if you don’t have the experience.” No one is. They don’t want us without it.
That is so key too because nobody wants you in this industry unless you have experience. It’s the crazy thing. With your friends and with the internships, have you seen them be able to transition successfully into the job field now? You probably have some friends that are a little older than you. What have you seen in their experience? You’re just diving into this right now.
It depends on the amount of experience they have. Networking is extremely important, especially in this industry, who you know, how many people you know, where you know them from? Things like that are also very important. What you’ve done in school, extracurriculars, a lot of different things can feed into that aside from internships. All of that coming together, if you went the formal education route is very important.
I appreciate your perspective so much. Informal education is not inherently a bad thing.
It gives you a lot of perspectives, I feel that. I’ve gotten the lousy leadership roles from it, I’ve been in a lot of different organizations and leadership positions that I can talk about in interviews and things. If you play it right, you can get experience that’s not going to be working experience but it’s going to be experienced.
There are some good things because there’s a demographic that could benefit from the disciplines that are required to get through formal education. Straight up, that’s one of the reasons why I ended up not going that route because I was in college for two weeks. That’s it. I’m like, “Screw this. This is not for me,” I went out and gained experience. My education was very much accelerated in this field too because I would do bootcamps. It’d be like a fire hose worth of information and then I would go apply it. It’s something I still invest in because in this industry, especially or even in business in general, your education should never stop. It’s not like you’re going to graduate. I can sense you and I appreciate you for this too because I can tell that you’re not in the mindset of like, “I’ve arrived. Come and pay me this exorbitant salary because I completed my school. It’s time for you to recognize me.” Do you feel like you’re almost at the starting point now as the starting line?
I feel like I’m at phase one almost. I’m at step one because I think at the beginning of my schooling, I might have felt like, “When I get to the end, I’ll be at the end.” Now, the further I got, I was like, “The end is not the end at all.” The end will just be when we get things done worked for.
I want to reach through and give you a big hug now because you’re right in the thick of it. It’s also cool. This might be like a tangent but you’re also a minority female in this industry, which is sick. Congratulations and thank you for stepping up because it is such a male-dominated industry. You’re a rock star. In this extremely testosterone-labeled industry, what made you think, “I’m going to jump in there in this pool of men.”
I have no idea. I started school as a Computer Science Major. I didn’t vibe with Computer Science. I stayed in that for a semester. I also didn’t vibe with the professors that were there and then I moved to being a Chemical Engineering Major. I stayed for two semesters until I realized that all of that wasn’t going to be my field of choice for life. I went back to my counselor’s office and I saw being Cyber Criminology Minor on the paper and I was like, “This seems great. This seems like it would be something that I would enjoy.” I check that off. I already knew when I went there that I wanted to do the management information system though.
You were talking about the professors, too. I’ve been curious about this because I’m not in formal education now but what I’ve seen empirically is there’s a degree in entrepreneurship and it cracks me up that the professors that teach entrepreneurship have never even been one themselves. They’ve never experienced the falls in straight-up being broke and trying to make things happen or like me, having newborn twins and $0 coming in when I launched into this craziness. Do you see similarities in MIS too?
At least for BS, the issue was that he had been in there so long that he didn’t want to help. It was like, “I’ve gone through this and I struggled, so you’re going to struggle.” We’re first-year students, we need help. He didn’t want to help anyone. When I got to Chemical Engineering, that professor was like, “I’m going to let you all fail. You’re all going to fail.”
I hear this all the time. Are they washed out human beings that have nothing better to do than collect a paycheck?
I have no idea, because the Chemical Engineering guy, apparently the year before, he was nice because he had a great rate in my professor score. I thought I was going to have a great year. We got there and it was not the same. In the first test, everyone got 40 something average. I got a point above the average and everyone had 40s. He was like, “I’m not curving.” The next test, we all got 40s again. I was like, “I guess I have to take a W because I don’t know.” I left because he was the head of the program too every time. I was like, “I got to go.”
That’s crazy. Here’s another question that pops into my head. You’re talking about a Chemical Engineering professor yet, you’re in information systems. What the hell does Chemical Engineering have to do with management information systems?
It had nothing with it. I had a plan A and B. My plan A was Computer Science, my plan B was Chemical Engineering. Don’t ask me why those were my plan A and B because I have no idea why eighteen-year-old me those my plan A and B. She was something else.
That’s interesting. We won’t dive into that too much. It’s cool because I think the stat two years ago was around 26% of college grads are the ones that end up working in the field that they studied in. It’s something stupid low like that. It’s 1 in 4. 3 out of 4 people that graduate with the BS or whatever, they will go to work for Taco Bell or not necessarily that but some other industry that they didn’t even have their studies in. It’s cool that you had those plans but it’s also cool that your major is something that is highly in demand and is not going to change from that stature in the next 5 to 10 decades. You’re not going to have an issue finding a job as long as you go with the experienced side. What’s also cool is those 3 out of 4 people look at, “I’m going to go find a job because now I need money. I’ve got all this student debt that I’ve racked up over the past couple of years.” They then ended up working that down for a long time and they get trapped in this spiral of nothingness. They look at their lives ten years from now and they look ten years back like, “What the heck did I do?” What interested them in school doesn’t even interest them anymore.
I’m looking at you and for real, this is awesome because you’ve already written a book about this. Your handle on social media is @TheCyberConsultant. I’m a little jealous of that by the way but that’s a good pick on that. Good grab. You’re diving into this head first to say, “That’s not going to be me. I’m going to be the 1 in 4. I’m not going to be the 3 in 4.” A lot of people can learn from that. What’s your drive to dive in headfirst like that?
I’ve always been passionate about computers and helping people. I want to be able to spread awareness about cybersecurity in the best way that I know possible, which is also through communication. I’ve been passionate also about writing. I didn’t know how to incorporate writing with my passion for technology before now. I got published in my school’s textbook as a freshman and I was very shocked by that because my freshman professor was like, “I’m going to submit your essay.” I was like, “That was a terrible essay.” I did it anyway and it got published. That’s how the professor who sponsored me for this book ended up finding me. That landed in my lap for this whole opportunity. I’ve been able to combine those two passions and I’ve been very happy about that. After that, I’ve decided that I want to use my passion for communication to be able to spread awareness.
This is a good segue because let’s talk about some cyber stuff, too. Thank you for diving into the education piece because I’m pretty passionate about that, especially in this field. A lot of fields if it’s three-quarters of America never ends up working in the field that they studied in. “Wake up call.” Let’s talk about cyber now, too. You talk about something called Cyber Curiosity. Tell me about that. What does it mean to you and elaborate, please?
It’s something that I came up with. Basically to me, it means that everyone should be cyber-curious. Everyone should speak out to think more about what they’re doing in the cyber world. I call it the 3Cs of Cyber Curiosity, which is Cyber Awareness, Caution, and Curiosity. The cyber awareness piece is that everyone should be more cyber aware when they’re exploring the internet and they should know the risks they’re associated with everything that goes on the internet and with cybersecurity. The caution piece is that you should take a step back and stop and think before you take any action on the internet or that hosting something, clicking a link or anything of that nature. You should stop, think about it and say, “Is this something that I should be doing?” The curiosity piece is that the internet was created for us to be creative and to do wonderful new things. Yes, you should be able to enjoy it and to have fun. The caution shouldn’t take away from them. You should still be able to be curious and to enjoy it. That’s what curiosity means to me.
If I could rephrase a little bit because what I’m hearing anyway because this is my filter, is eliminate the fear.
That’s what it comes down to.
I see that so much in the world just like the pipeline. At least on the East Coast that caused such a gas shortage and for gas prices to rise. Of course, there’s fear that’s associated with that because that ends up being like, “Our infrastructure was attacked.” It has caused economic turmoil that directly impacts the pockets or the bank accounts of millions of Americans. That’s going to drive fear because now, if you’re struggling financially already, a lot are coming out of this in 2020 with the pandemic. Thank God, it was only for a temporary period, but all of a sudden, I have to account for a larger fuel expense for my commute this month.
Maybe I’m not going to go as many places. It’s a shift and it’s like, “I have to address this impact in my life now but what if it happens again? What if it’s more seriously next time? How’s it going to impact me more? Am I going to have to file bankruptcy because something impacted my bank account directly with next time? What is going on?” It then becomes, “Knock, knock. Hello, Mr. President, can you do something about this please so that we’re protected and help us,” which he did sign into law an executive order around cybersecurity, which I personally feel. I was interviewed for an article that said it was a little too late. It’s like getting car insurance after you’ve been in a wreck.
That’s what I saw. It’s not going to help you at this point. It will help you for the next car accident you’re in, which is important in this industry too because you know as well as I do that, it’s no longer like, “We’re going to try to stop this. We’re going to try to stop as much as we possibly can but we know we’re still going to get hit.” That’s what cybersecurity is now turning into cyber resilience because like you’re saying, eliminate the fear because regardless, it’s going to happen. You could get into that car accident. Does that mean you just stay home? That you never drive and carry on with life? No. You still need to live your life.
That’s exactly what the caution part is. Are you never going to drive a car again? You’re going to do your best to not get in a car accident.
You still have to drive. You still have to use a computer. Even with some clients. It’s like, “I wish we could go back to doing things how we were.” There was a law firm. He’s in so much stuff to help ensure that their filings are on time and organize stuff. You need software systems to do this properly now because the courts have gone to electronic filings too. It’s like, “Can’t we go back to paper filings and all this stuff?” I’m like, “How many filing deadlines did you miss when you were doing that? How many more human beings did you have to have on staff and pay their salary when you were doing that method too? Now you can do even more with the people. This thing that costs you 10% more has eliminated 2/3 of your labor expense.” That’s the benefit.
I think that a lot of people don’t see it that way though. That’s part of the issue. They don’t see the benefit.
Help me with this because you got me on a soapbox, which is awesome. Thank you for this because your energy is phenomenal. They don’t realize this. In your book, you’re writing, how do you cross that barrier to them saying, “I should think about this. Maybe this is something that I need to pay attention to.” That’s a huge battle, isn’t it?
It definitely was a huge battle. I used a lot of stories, case studies, real stories of people who were hurt by cybersecurity disasters. That was the key piece that I felt would touch people’s hearts, which was, “This person is like me. They went through this. This happened to them and it could happen to me.” This woman was a target for a romance scam and she lost $2 million to this man. She kept funneling money to him because she thought that she was going to eventually one day meet him. He had kept saying, “I can’t come. I’m on this construction site. I need money to get there. I need this and that.” It ended up that he was from Nigeria. Even after the FBI told her it was a scam, she wouldn’t believe it. It was multiple people doing it. One of them, they were able to catch but not the main one. She was like, “I don’t believe that it was my Johnny.” She was so brainwashed and hurt that to this day she doesn’t believe it was him.
I’ve seen that in person, too. In my profile being as the following that I have, there are fake profiles out there of me all the time. We catch these as quickly as we can. There was one person that contacted me that was like, “Are you for real? Are you crazy?” It was a DM. I’m like, “What are you talking about?” They then send screenshots of a profile that somebody used the name, Justin Cohen but it was with all my photos. Everything available publicly but it was the same thing. They started communicating with this woman over WhatsApp for financial gain, promising the world to her kids and everything else.
This pseudo-online romance started over WhatsApp but it was all through a fake profile. This dude was positioning himself as me using a different name saying, “Look at all the things that I’m doing. I can provide you this amazing life and all these other things but because I’ve got funds tied up elsewhere now and all these business things, I need you to send me the money here and there, then I’ll start putting things together for you to come into America and have a new life with me for your kids.” It wasn’t like $2 million but it was a lot more than that.
It was sad for me. These things break my heart, especially when I get contacted directly for something like this. It’s like, “I’m sorry, it’s quite obvious that you’re talking with the real Mr. Rick Jordan at this point. This is something that happens, please be aware and be cautious of it in the future. I wish that I could help you but at this point, your money is gone.” At least from what she told me, she’s going to have to work three times as hard and take on more jobs and do other things to build back up that money because it was sucking her dry for so long thinking that, “This is somebody that can get me into America and have a new life for me and my kids. I’m going to dive into that,” pulling into her emotional strings. It kills me because this stuff happens all the time.
See that lady in my book. She was in an abusive relationship with her husband. She ended up spending all of her retirement accounts. It was a tragic story. One in my book I did is take a lot of different stories and try to pull them together with different terms and information to be able to convey to people what is happening in real life.
How do people get caught in these scams for the most part? What’s the biggest method that you see where they get sucked in?
Social engineering is the biggest problem now.
Could you explain what that is? Most of our readers does not understand cyber terms. What is social engineering?
It is when people use conversation, talking, to get into your life and to get into your pockets mostly. They’re not really using technology, hacking to get into your account. They’re using the mind.
It’s so cool. I’m pumped that you see and care about the human element with cyber because that’s mostly what I talk about when I’m on stages, the human side of it, especially because I’m typically talking to my industry too. It’s like, “Guys, girls it’s not like you can throw anti-virus on there, and then they’re good.” Even if you have eighteen different tools, you’re still not good because there’s not the software you can inject into somebody’s brain and rewire them that way or put the shield around their activities and their behaviors to help those that don’t work. It’s funny because I pick on them in this way. I’m like, “There’s always some dude in every company that will click on anything that they see.” That person always exists.
The insider threat is always there.
That’s the unintentional insider threat too. Not always malicious but it’s still a freaking internal threat. If somebody’s sitting right there, it’s still a liability. Your human touch in your books is amazing because you’re using stories from real life for a lot of these scenarios. Outside of that one that you just told, what’s one of the favorites to say, “This is the real estate of things. Wake up.”
I told the story of the Silk Road. I’m sure you know what Silk Road is. To tell about the dark web and spin that into the book, that was one of my favorite ones. For people that don’t know what the Silk Road is, it was a big drug marketplace on the dark web. The dark web is the part of the internet that is not indexed by any search engine. You cannot access the dark web by Google or any other search engine. You would have to go through a browser that’s called the Onion Browser, which should be a browser like Tor or any other type of browser like that. They were on those types of browsers selling things like illegal drugs, sometimes murder for hire and all types of other illegal things until they were eventually caught by the authorities but it took a good while, honestly.
You talked about the Onion Browser too and it’s so cool. I don’t know why, but my brain always goes back to thinking Shrek. He’s like, “Ogres have layers.” The dark web has layers. The internet has layers. You can peel those back but you have to have the right tools to access those two. There’s the internet, the deep web, then below that is the dark web, then there are these sites that are within that too like the Silk Road. There are all these different layers that exist within these things. There are even sites that are made to mimic sites that are almost like the real world in the internet world too that we can access now that you can accidentally get to through other means and methods. It looks like the real site but it’s actually a phishing site. The stuff out there is crazy but again, it’s not to put you into fear.
It’s just knowledge.
That’s phenomenal. What advice would you give to someone wanting to pursue a career similar to yours?
There are a lot of paths to this. You need to research the different paths there are to get to a career like mine and you need to learn a bit about yourself. Do you want to do a lot of self-learning or do you want to go a more disciplined route like traditional learning in college? Honestly, if I would have learned about myself earlier, I probably wouldn’t have gone this route because I don’t like having to do a lot of tests and things on a schedule, homework and things like that. It does get on my nerves after a long time. I wouldn’t have done it myself if I would’ve understood what I wanted to do at an earlier point and known that I could achieve a career like this without taking this path. I say research. That’s the advice that I will give.
Everyone can find your book at LakeidraSmith.com.
Yes, or Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.
Make sure to follow her, @TheCyberConsultant. I’m guessing on Instagram, on LinkedIn, wherever, the same thing. Thanks for bringing in some awesome fire to this. Keep rocking it because you are down a path that is going to continue to accelerate. You’re jumping into this in the right mindset. You’re amazing. Thank you.
- @TheCyberConsultant – Instagram
- LinkedIn – Rick Jordan
- A Beginner’s Guide to Cybersecurity – How to Protect Yourself in the Modern World
- Onion Browser
- Barnes & Noble
- LinkedIn – Lakeidra Smith
- University of Alabama
- Fact Check
- Social Engineering
- Silk Road