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Every day across the world, an invisible war plays out between nations, corporations and individuals. The fighting never ceases, attacks come from all fronts and everything is at stake. Unless your life is directly affected by cybersecurity threats, though, you may be unaware this war exists. Cable news outlets run stories about major cyberattacks, but the daily threats that directly prey on American institutions, businesses and individuals tend to fly under the radar. “Cybersecurity is a tax,” said venture capitalist and former cyber company CEO Ray Rothrock ’77. “It is a tax on our time, our pocketbooks and our society.”  

According to the FBI, American businesses and individuals experienced a $1.8 billion loss in 2020 from email account compromises alone. Victims of internet crime lost $4.2 billion overall. “We are talking about a major global threat that touches our businesses, our personal lives and our information,” Rothrock emphasized. Together with another extraordinary former student in tech, he is working with Texas A&M University to equip the next generation of leaders to secure the state, nation and world’s digital infrastructure. 

Ray Rothrock ’77

Going Around the Wall 

Reacting to the threat of cyberattacks, many organizations have invested significantly in advanced firewalls and technological defenses to deter hackers. But as Rothrock explains, these safeguards do not provide a cohesive solution. “It’s really more of a human problem,” he said. For a historical comparison, look to the legendary Maginot Line.  

Anticipating a German attack in the 1930s, France spent $9 billion in today’s dollars building a 280-mile-long line of fortresses, bunkers and gun batteries. At the time, it was the most sophisticated fortification ever built. When Hitler’s invasion came, though, the French watched in shock as the Nazis simply drove their panzer tanks around the line through the Ardennes Forest, which the French had wrongly assumed to be impenetrable.  

In the same vein, hackers tend to avoid attacking souped-up firewalls head-on, opting instead to trick people into letting them in voluntarily. Their most popular and effective tool, phishing, involves sending fraudulent emails that appear to come from a trusted peer but aim to elicit sensitive information. If just one employee interacts with one of these targeted emails, it can trigger a company-wide data breach. In 2020, more than 241,000 U.S. citizens fell victim to phishing attacks. 

When Rothrock wrote his 2018 book on cybersecurity, “Digital Resilience,” many organizations were still oblivious to this glaring vulnerability. “In just the four years since then, there’s been a massive education effort,” he said. “Corporations now spend a lot of money training their employees to spot phishing attacks at the source.” Nevertheless, the threat of cyberattacks grows more complex and all-encompassing year after year. As Rothrock sees it, a human problem calls for a human solution, and there is no better place to find that solution than at Texas A&M. 

Sourcing the Right Solutions

For the past few years, Rothrock has carried forward a vision for an institute at Texas A&M tailor-made to create innovative cybersecurity solutions through research and education. In considering a collaborator to help bring this vision to life, he called Anthony Wood ’90, the founder, chairman and CEO of Roku Inc. As the head of a leading tech company, Wood understands the weight of the issue firsthand. “Cybersecurity is a concern for businesses, our economy and our national security that affects both the public and private sectors,” he said.  

Anthony Wood ’90, the founder, chairman and CEO of Roku Inc.

Together, the former students refined the idea and established The Texas A&M Global Cyber Research Institute with gifts totaling $10 million through the Texas A&M Foundation. Building on the work of the university’s existing Cybersecurity Center, the institute will conduct high-impact research on threats to and protections for the nation’s security and economy while uniquely preparing students to excel in the ever-growing cybersecurity field. 

“This university is the best place for this institute,” Rothrock concluded. “Texas A&M already leads in many fields that touch cybersecurity, from education and technology to policy and law.”

“Texas A&M already leads in many fields that touch cybersecurity, from education and technology to policy and law.”
- Ray Rothrock ’77

As the digital realm creeps further and further into our daily lives, he and Wood envision future Aggie students, faculty and staff leading the charge for a safer, more cybersecure world. 

Contact
  • Dunae Reader '15

  • Assistant Director of Marketing & Communications/Spirit Editor/Maroon Co-Editor
  • Call: 979.321.6343

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