Take a second for cyber security: an interview with UB Professor Alan Katerinsky

Published October 24, 2019

by Orly Stein

October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month, and UB Professor Alan Katerinsky shared some practical ways UB community members can keep themselves secure all year long.

Professor Katerinsky is a professor in UB’s Management Science and Systems department, specializing in Information Security, among other areas.

How can I avoid being the victim of a cybercrime?

Author

UBIT Student Ambassador Orly Stein.

Orly Stein (UB Student, Class of 2022) is an Information Technology and Management major from Long Island, NY. In the future, she hopes to get more experience with cyber security and hopefully pursue a career in the field. In her free time, Orly enjoys playing soccer, going to SoulCycle with her friends and snowboarding.

One easy way to avoid becoming a victim is by using passphrases instead of passwords. Also, it’s important to never use the same password for multiple accounts.

“When one organization is breached, all the passwords and logins are stolen and sold on the Internet,” Professor Katerinsky said. “They try every login-password combination they’ve got and, eventually, someone has used the same password and login at another organization."

“Re-using passwords and even logins is pretty much a sure way to get yourself hacked.”

What are the risks associated with using public Wi-Fi?

“Using public Wi-Fi is a big risk, and should be avoided if possible,” Professor Katerinsky said. “Use a free VPN if you can get it.”

UB provides a VPN to all faculty and students to protect university data.

Portrait of UB Professor Alan Katerinsky.

UB Professor Alan Katerinsky

Is all the hassle of securing my devices worth it?

“Information security has a triad: confidentiality, integrity, and availability. Sometimes, availability and confidentiality are in conflict,” Professor Katerinsky said.

“The more secure your [device] is, the more difficult it is to get to. If you could get any advantage at all, a VPN, a password manager, anything like that, use it!” 

How can I prevent identity theft?

Professor Katerinsky added: “Close the extra tabs on your browser when you do any transaction."

“It is very possible that someone has compromised another, less-secure site, and while all those tabs are open, it’s effectively the same connection. There are pieces of software that can grab your passwords right off of the other [tabs].”

In addition to closing tabs, Professor Katerinsky said, “Take an extra minute to look at where your emails come from. It can have someone’s name in it, and the actual email address is totally different."

“That is one of the things they do at schools like UB—they take a Dean’s name and try a standard scam, but it looks like it has the authority of someone trying to make a real connection with you."

Report suspicious email—even if it appears to be coming from someone trustworthy—by sending the email and its header information to UB’s Information Security Office for analysis.

“All of these things work based on age old con men tricks. They appeal to your kindness, or appeal to your greed, or appeal to your curiosity. All of these things work. Why do they work? Because, humans are still humans.”

Chart demonstrating the different threats of cyber security.

What is the current biggest threat to students and faculty at UB?

“[The biggest threat to the UB community is] the same as it is for everybody else… phishing attacks. A well-crafted phishing attack will get past about 50% of alerted security professionals.”

Professor Katerinsky continued, “Take an extra second, don’t be in a hurry. It doesn’t matter how smart you are if you’re not paying attention.”

Staying safe online