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.