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cyber

CyberCity initiative to enhance cyber curricula and activities in Tulsa-area schools 

TU will launch a new multi-year CyberCity program in the summer of 2020 to infuse cyber education into every school and eventually every classroom in the Tulsa metropolitan area, energizing a generation of students to transform the city and its economy.

During the first year of the CyberCity Initiative, TU will host up to four teacher workshops to impart cyber and cybersecurity concepts through hands-on activities designed for middle and elementary school classes. The activities will include projects, games and competitions, as well as content-creation lessons in classroom settings.

Cyber teachers for a cyber world

With financial support from the George Kaiser Family Foundation, TU’s Sujeet Shenoi, professor of computer science and chemical engineering and founder of TU’s famed Cyber Corps, along with Kimberly Adams, Chapman Senior Instructor of Mathematics, will hold four weeklong workshops in June and July 2020 — two for elementary school teachers and two for middle school teachers. Enrollment in each workshop will cap at 36 teachers. Groups of two to four teachers from Tulsa-area schools are encouraged to participate in a workshop to create critical mass, foster collaborative efforts during the academic year and add cyber curricula and activities to their schools.

The summer teacher workshops will cover cybersecurity concepts and best practices, online safety, cyber ethics, computer gaming, the Internet of Things, robot and drone programming as well as the critical infrastructure, cryptography and coding involved in the Python programming language. Each teacher will receive a $600 stipend, Raspberry PI with a keyboard and mouse, flash drive with instructional materials, lockbox kit and the book “Cracking Codes with Python: An Introduction to Building and Breaking Cyphers.”

“We envision enabling a generation of cyber-savvy “tinkerers” and innovators capable of changing the city’s economic base,” Shenoi said. “This is something we should do if we want to change our city.”

Beyond the summer series, TU will support teachers throughout the school year by providing an interactive web platform to share ideas and ask questions, creating an online community that fosters collaboration in developing lesson plans and other learning materials.

TU mini-camp

Expected in the fall of 2020 and spring of 2021, TU will offer mini-camps for the trained teachers to share ideas and best practices and explore lesson planning ideas. The camps will enable teachers to network with each other and other cyber experts to enhance their skills and increase their exposure to new technologies. Each teacher will receive a $100 stipend for participating in the mini-camps, and substitute teachers for a mini-camp attendee will receive $70. Mini-camp participants will be required to submit papers that reflect their cyber training and describe how they are implementing cyber curricula into their classrooms.

To learn more about the CyberCity initiative or to apply, please email Kimberly Adams at kimberly-adams@utulsa.edu or Sujeet Shenoi at sujeet@utulsa.edu.

TU alumni cracking cases as digital forensic investigators 

The sky is the limit when you’ve got a TU degree in computer science or cybersecurity. Between the two of them, alumni Gavin Manes (B.S. ’01, M.S. ’02, Ph.D. ’04) and Lance Watson (B.S. ’96, M.S. ’03) have earned five degrees from the Tandy School of Computer Science, and their flair for entrepreneurial ventures grows with each new idea. Among the several businesses they have established, their digital forensic and e-discovery firm, Avansic, has a national reputation for private investigative work.

Learn more about the Tandy School of Computer Science and TU’s cyber programs.

Digital forensics: The early years

digital forensic
Gavin Manes

When Manes founded Avansic in 2004, the legal world had not yet embraced the concept of digital forensics. In hindsight, Watson said the firm was ahead of its time — especially in Oklahoma, where he and Manes spent much of their time providing educational outreach to prospective clients. “For the first five years of the business, paychecks were thin,” Watson explained. “We had to educate people about what they wanted, what they could get from our company and then, ultimately, why they needed our help.”

Despite resistance from some corners of the legal profession, Avansic did its legwork and created an initiative to inform clients about how they could use and benefit from digital forensic services. “Computer forensics is the act of investigating what happened on a computer to explain a story,” Manes said. “With e-discovery, you’re facilitating a group of lawyers to review the content from that computer to prove something to help you in court.”

Both tactics are based on the same function of evidence processing and preservation. Digital forensics examines how a document was placed on a computer, who looked at it, who opened it, who copied it, etc., while e-discovery looks at what’s stated in the email or Word document. “Early on, we were just doing digital forensics because e-discovery didn’t exist yet,” Gavin explained. “At least 70 percent of our business was outside of the state.”

Cell phone secrets

Avansic’s primary customers are law firms who represent an individual or corporation. Much of the work involves cell phone forensics for family matters or family court cases. Avansic private investigators can perform a service known as “turn and burn” where they retrieve information on a child’s phone and hand it over directly to the parents. Other expert witness work focuses on interpreting mobility user reports using cell site locations. Most of Avansic’s cases are civil in nature, but Manes said the company will take on a criminal case in special circumstances. “We’re like Dog the Bounty Hunter, but we’re nerds,” he said with a grin.

Lance WatsonBy 2015, the climate of digital forensics had advanced to the point that clients began to contact Avansic with specific requests. The company’s computer scientists and IT specialists are a special breed who can crack the case while communicating effectively with lawyers and other clients. In one instance, Watson’s digital forensic testimony led to the release of a prison inmate after his research determined the person had been incarcerated on the premise of a misinterpretation of data. “Sitting on a stand, talking to a judge or jury, you have to be relatable and convincing,” Manes said.

Tulsa’s entrepreneurial climate

From a closet office where four employees shared the same workspace, Avansic has grown into its current offices in downtown Tulsa. The firm’s success during the past couple of years could be replicated in other cities around the country that are known for their startup and tech industries, but Manes and Watson say there are benefits to keeping home base in Tulsa. “We’ve got more fiber than practically anyone in the United States, and office space is affordable,” Watson said. “It’s not hard to find qualified people to work for us here. The state is training a lot of people at various levels but with skills we can use.”

Manes reiterated that it can be difficult to stop Oklahoma’s current “brain drain,” but opportunity lies in the additional hiring of cybersecurity and digital forensic specialists at corporations, in-house. “There’s a lot of energy and desire to build entrepreneurship in the city of Tulsa, it’s just a matter of how we get it done,” he said.

The world is your oyster

TU’s degree programs in the Tandy School of Computer Science aim to prepare students for exciting careers while preventing them from leaving the state. Watson grew up in the Tulsa area and attended TU as a nontraditional student while working full time. He received a bachelor’s degree in computer science and a master’s in cybersecurity thanks in part to supportive faculty such as Dale Schoenefeld and the late Travis Tull. “I have a deep appreciation for the professors I worked with there,” he said. “Dale Schoenefeld did so much for me and my wife. I cannot thank him enough for all he did for us.”

Manes, from Dallas, came to Tulsa for his bachelor’s degree in computer science and never left. As an undergraduate, he worked on robotics projects with Professor Gerry Kane, sang in the men’s chorale group, filed a patent with fellow student (now Tandy School of Computer Science chairman) John Hale and took one of his favorite courses, genetic algorithms, from Professor Roger Wainwright. While earning his master’s and Ph.D., he helped established the Computer Information Security group, which later became known as the Institute for Information Security (iSEC) and led the effort to match TU computer science students with Tulsa law enforcement to solve cybercrime cases — an initiative that is still active today. “We paired young students who knew everything about computers and technology with law enforcement officers,” Manes said. “The officer learns everything about computers, and the student learns everything about humans and interacting with people.”

Manes and Watson remain involved at their alma mater through the occasional lecture or Q&A session with students. Manes is the scheduled keynote for the Collins College of Business Friends of Finance speaker series in January. Whether meeting with clients or answering questions from students, both alumni tout the benefits of a computer science degree from TU. “The world’s your oyster if you’ve got that degree,” Watson said. “When we talk to seniors, we explain it’s not a matter of what you can do in computer science but what can’t you do — the possibilities are endless. Our skills apply to data, programming, computer operations in every industry these days.”

“Computer science is one of those things that once you learn it, you can teach it forever,” Manes explained. “There were a lot of opportunities for me to do interesting things as a student, and I don’t think that’s changed at TU.” 

Computer science interns learn hacking 101 and other cyber secrets

Internships are the most realistic way to introduce students to a professional career environment in computer science. When college students are unsure of what area(s) to pursue in their discipline, an internship can provide insight and direction. Bonus: It doesn’t hurt that internships are key opportunities to network with professionals and scope out the job market.

Meaghan Longenberger, a computer science major from Hickory Creek, Texas, completed an internship in the IBM X-Force Red unit in Austin, Texas. Tabor Kvasnicka, a computer simulation and gaming student from Enid, Oklahoma, also interned at IBM in Austin earlier this year. Both students gained valuable exposure to the many different options a cybersecurity career offers.

Hacking 101

Longenberger’s internship involved shadowing projects underway with IBM Red team communications, writing a proposal for what kind of research she wanted to conduct at IBM, presenting her research and participating in an eight-week bootcamp that covered all areas of the cybersecurity industry.
“I got experience explaining, ‘here’s what I did and here are the results’ in front of executives,” she said. “It was good practice speaking in front of people and trying to explain technical details.”

The bootcamp involved an IBM specialist visiting the Austin lab each week to give presentations on cyber topics such as how to hack wi-fi, lock-picking and physical security, pen-testing, social engineering and more. “All of these experts who work there discussed the team’s internal processes,” Longenberger explained. “It was a brain dump, but so amazing to learn from all of these different people who have been in the industry for years.”

An interest in computers combined with her father’s background in electronics and her grandfather’s experience in electrical engineering led Longenberger to The University of Tulsa and the computer science major. During her TU career, she has conducted a Tulsa Undergraduate Research Challenge (TURC) project with Tyler Moore, Tandy Associate Professor of Cybersecurity and Information Assurance. “We did a lot of data scraping and analyzing how different cyberattacks would affect cryptocurrency and crypto-exchange marketplaces,” she said.

Working in a professional setting at IBM demonstrated Longenberger’s cybersecurity skills, and she said the connections made at IBM will benefit her career. “Interning is the closest to real-world work. I know I can always reach out to the people that I met at X-Force for advice on companies and work environments.”

Containerized environment visibility

Kvasnicka worked for in the chief information security office at IBM as part of the company’s security operations center. He served on the architect team and researched open source and internal solutions to a rising problem in containerized environments visibility. Tools exist for studying the visibility of traditional environments such as threat monitoring but fewer resources are available for monitoring environments that use Kubernetes, docker and other related technologies. “It was interesting to see a problem in the cybersecurity world that was a real-life problem for an international company like IBM with 300,000 employees,” Kvasnicka said.

His IBM internship complements the work Kvasnicka has done the past two summers at eLynx Technologies in Tulsa along with competitive learning opportunities as a TU team member at the Collegiate Cyber Defense, Capture the Flag and Collegiate Pen-Testing competitions. He is also a TU TokenEx Fellow who has received a cybersecurity scholarship from the Oklahoma-based data protection platform company TokenEx, founded by TU computer science alumni. “Dr. Hale’s lab prepared me for the IBM role because we worked with things like infrastructure and scaling,” Kvasnicka said. “I came to TU to learn how to make video games, but now that I’ve experienced what I could potentially do in the cybersecurity world, I’m strongly considering the field.”

Guidance from faculty and alumni

A simple email or phone call is all it takes sometimes to help a student find an internship. John Hale, Tandy Professor of Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, told Longenberger about IBM X-Force Red and encouraged her to apply. “I’ve been talking to friends who go to other colleges, and the fact that we have professors who will reach out and say, ‘hey, here’s this cool internship opportunity,’ is important,” she said. “I think that’s what TU is good at, especially in the computer science department.”

Hale said he receives calls frequently from TU alumni at corporations such as Amazon, IBM or Google who are searching for qualified interns. Career fairs and class presentations from company representatives also lead to fruitful internships. According to Hale, placing a student on the path to a successful career can be as easy as matching an alumni member with a current student. “It’s the idea of imprinting,” he said. “That first internship, they bond with alumni whether it involves writing code, developing software, managing systems, or data science and analytics. Those interactions don’t happen as often at larger schools.”

Laser weapon control systems

Computer science junior Max Johnson of Silver Spring, Maryland, discovered his Naval Surface Warfare Center internship at a TU career fair. He was advised to apply to military bases across the country and obtained a position at a location in his home state. Through the Naval Research Enterprise Internship Program, Johnson spent 10 weeks with seven other members of the software development team developing U.S. laser weapon control systems. “We looked at the processes in place for reporting laser weapon control activity,” he said. “It was a mix of development and implementation, a lot of fixing bugs and adding new features to software.”

The Naval Surface Warfare Center was Johnson’s most technical and favorite internship so far, and the developers he worked with suggested he consider returning to the team in the future. Currently, he is applying to TU’s computer science accelerated program to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree in five years. Longer and Kvasnicka also are enrolled in the accelerated option to earn both degrees. “There’s so much to explore in computer science, and my classes offer ways to explore new topics. I wouldn’t mind developing for a few years,” Johnson said.

Longenberger and Kvasnicka also agree interning in a competitive industry environment is enticing for the careers that await. “I’d say it was a 10 out of 10 for my internship experience,” Kvasnicka said. “Now that I’ve seen a little more of the real world, I’m excited for what the future holds.” 

Cybersecurity alumnus Tony Meehan: Be curious, stay humble to succeed in the industry

A cybersecurity degree from The University of Tulsa is a golden ticket to career success. There are large corporations, medium-sized security organizations and small, innovative startups, but no matter the path a TU grad chooses, there’s plenty of room for their expertise in the cyber industry.

Value and work ethics in the cyber industry

With two TU degrees to his name, Tony Meehan (BS ’03, MS ’05) has found his purpose in the cybersecurity field. Meehan is Vice President of Engineering at Endgame, an endpoint security software product company specializing in stopping advanced cyber threats. Their mission: to stop attackers from stealing data. The company recently announced its acquisition by Elastic, a public company with a focus on search, logging, security and analytics. Endgame software engineers are located across the country from coast to coast. Meehan joined Endgame in 2014 after working for almost a decade at the National Security Agency.

Tony Meehan“I was looking for a small and exciting startup that understood the adversary,” he said. “We have to evolve every day to prove to our customers that Endgame is the only endpoint security product they will ever need. And we’ve learned along the way that to build a great product, you have to invest in building a culture that respects and empowers people.”

Meehan first learned these values in college. Long before he built computer network exploitation tools for the NSA, the Jenks, Oklahoma, native sat in a TU lab discovering the discipline required to find failures in software and become a well-rounded engineer.

“I learned the value of curiosity, tenacity, and humility,” he explained. “I learned that by asking questions and working with a diverse team of people with different backgrounds and experiences, that’s how you accomplish something great — not as an individual but as a team.”

Meehan’s interest in the TU Tandy School of Computer Science began as a participant in his high school’s FIRST Robotics Club. The group partnered with TU to prepare for competitions, and he was “blown away with just how easy it was for TU students to write microcontroller software on the fly to solve complex problems.”

Enrolling at TU was a fateful decision that aligned with the plans of a few other students who also have made their mark in the industry. Classmates included Phil McAllister, one of the original engineers at Instagram, and TU Tandy Associate Professor of Cybersecurity and Information Assurance Tyler Moore, an international expert on cryptocurrency and security economics.

“It was a lightning-in-a-bottle moment. They are all brilliant people. I had to work hard to keep up with them,” Meehan said. “The caliber of people around you at this university demands the best version of yourself — that’s something I value to this day.”

Building the team at Endgame

The computer science and cyber education, and TU’s honors program, left a permanent impression on his leadership style and work ethic. Endgame competes with companies 10 times their size, but he welcomes going toe-to-toe with them because Meehan believes in the talent and character of his team.

“There are three things we look for when hiring engineers: curiosity, the tenacity to never give up, and humility,” he said. “I want to know if people care about learning and growing, if they have the imagination to achieve the impossible, and if they can put aside their ego and put the goals of their team and organization above their own. These are all qualities I learned from my peers and professors at TU.”

TU as a family

Meehan said TU is well respected within the cybersecurity industry, including at Endgame, but the university became more than just a top-ranked cyber program in 2010 when he suffered a life-changing accident. After a snowboarding injury that left his leg severely mangled, TU faculty and students were a support system for Meehan. In recovery, he blogged about the experience that eventually involved an amputation below the knee. TU computer science students developed a Twitter machine that automatically tweeted Meehan’s blog posts.

“TU was with me every step of the way,” he said. “The outpouring of that family connection was incredible and humbling. TU supports and stays with you your entire life.”

He and his family currently reside in Washington, D.C., but he returns home to Tulsa several times a year for both personal and professional business. “People see the investments we’re making in Tulsa,” Meehan said. “In my field, you’re no longer isolated by where you live geographically, so I think it’s a lot easier for TU to take a leadership role in the industry.”

After receiving a first-class cyber education from TU, students can choose to spread their wings across the country or plant roots in Tulsa where cyber companies and startups can afford to take risks and think big.

“It goes back to those values I mentioned earlier,” Meehan said. “Tenacity, humility and curiosity — if you have those as underpinnings of your approach to any pursuit, you’re going to succeed. That’s where TU stands out.”

Veteran, TU alumnus builds cyber career in Tulsa

Nathan Singleton (BS ’08, MS ’10) has blazed his own trail to success first as a veteran, then a University of Tulsa student and now as a cybersecurity professional. He was the first full-time cybersecurity employee at a Tulsa-based drilling and technology company. Starting with zero budget and staff almost five years ago, Singleton has developed a ten-member cybersecurity team with a multi-million-dollar budget. “We get to interface with all levels of the organization, from the guys on the rigs to those in the mailroom and up to the executive leadership team,” he said.

Learn more about TU’s undergraduate degree options in computer science or graduate programs in cybersecurity.

nathan singletonHis ability to think independently and relate to different fields outside of the cybersecurity discipline are skills he developed as an undergraduate and graduate student at TU. In the ever-changing environment of digital security, Singleton said professionals must be open to continuous learning and different ideas. “There are a lot of bad actors out there that are spending as much money or more than we are in the industry to figure out new ways to get beyond our security measures and protocols,” he said.

“Cybersecurity is always marching forward. It is very fast-paced and going through an education program that is set up in a very similar manner helps prepare you for that.”

Attending TU as a veteran

Originally from Houston, Singleton attended high school in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and joined the military after graduation. He worked 10 years as an electronics technician on submarines in the U.S. Navy, and as his time on active duty drew to a close, he visited Tulsa where a friend told him about TU. He discovered the opportunities that awaited him if he pursued a computer science degree with a focus on cybersecurity. After studying a couple of semesters at Tulsa Community College, Singleton enrolled at TU as a 28-year-old transfer student. Key staff members in the TU Veterans Student Success Center, such as Cindy Watts, helped him coordinate his Department of Veteran’s Affair Vocational Rehabilitation funding. His seamless transition to a four-year university was enhanced by fellow student veterans on campus from all branches of the military.

“It’s a very welcoming vet-friendly environment, and those are relationships that are probably going to carry me through the rest of my life,” Singleton said.

He immediately got involved in research, publishing papers, representing the university at conferences in Japan and Poland and completing internships with local businesses and federal agencies. “My overall experience was amazing,” Singleton said. “I think research at such an early stage of my educational career was what drove me further and further. Because I was former military and because I was older, I had the opportunity to lead research projects that prepared me to manage a cybersecurity department at a multi-national company.”

From grad school to the government

Research, internships, direct interaction with professors and the tight-knit dynamic of TU’s computer science and cybersecurity programs convinced Singleton he’d made the right college decision. Following his bachelor’s degree, he stayed at TU and earned a master’s in computer science, which opened up a whole new world of cyber scenarios and research leadership opportunities. TU’s reputation as a cyber education center set him on track with a career at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Southwest Power Administration where hydroelectric power from U.S. Army Corps of Engineer dams is linked to preference customers in cooperatives and military bases. As the security program manager, Singleton was responsible for the protection and security of the agency’s dams and infrastructure in four states as well as other facilities, substations and power lines that interface directly with the U.S. Army. He rebuilt the physical security program to respond to floods, natural disasters and pandemics. Singleton also oversaw counterintelligence and counterterrorism projects and eventually led the agency’s cybersecurity team.

Finding opportunity in Tulsa

Three years later, he began to look for a new challenge and was contacted by H&P in Tulsa. He has developed the company’s cybersecurity team from the ground up and manages all incident response activities and system reviews. The department’s roles also have expanded to providing security awareness and training, governance, risk analysis and compliance.

“TU taught me how to think outside the box, solve problems and succeed in the government and at H&P,” he said.

After his work experience in the government, he had planned to look for jobs in Washington, D.C., on the West Coast or overseas, but family ties and the prospect of entrepreneurial cyber growth pulled him back to Tulsa. He believes that with more investment from local organizations interested in building out the city’s cyber infrastructure and capabilities, companies will find Tulsa an inviting city with a low cost of living. “As the word spreads and more opportunities arise here in Tulsa, I think we’ll see how it’s a great location for a startup,” Singleton said. “It’s about attracting the minds, giving them what they need to make that initial, first shaky step and then watching them launch.”

 

 

 

True Cybersecurity: TU hosts Tulsa Cyber Summit, wins CCDC regional 

Students, executives and innovators convened in Tulsa March 24-26 for a weekend of events centered on competition and exploration in the field of cybersecurity. The True Blue University of Tulsa community was instrumental in hosting the Southwest Regional Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition (CCDC), followed by the first-ever Tulsa Cyber Summit, a national cybersecurity conference for students, executives, entrepreneurs and innovators.

2019 Southwest Regional Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition

CCDC team
TU’s 2019 CCDC team

TU’s CCDC team won first place at the southwest regional event, hosted on the TU campus, and will advance to the national competition April 23-25 in Orlando, Florida. CCDC gives college students the opportunity to apply real-world technical and business skills before graduating. Simulated situations prepare students for real scenarios they will encounter later in their careers as each team is responsible for securing, managing and maintaining the network infrastructure of a fabricated small business.

TU’s 2019 CCDC team members include Team Captain Kyle Cook (computer science), Michaela Conn and Brian Kwiecinski (computer information systems), Abraham Habib (information technology) and Tabor Kvasnicka, Hannah Robbins, Rachel Porter and Meaghan Longenberger (computer science). Sal Aurigemma, Assistant Professor of Computer Information Systems, is the team’s coach.

Tulsa Cyber Summit

During the same weekend, TU, the George Kaiser Family Foundation and Cox Business teamed up to welcome cybersecurity specialists and innovators from around the country to the Tulsa Cyber Summit. The conference featured high-profile keynotes including former CIA Director John Brennan, Facebook Security Director Aanchal Gupta, Team8 Founder and CEO Nadav Zafrir and more than 40 other leaders and executives in the cybersecurity industry.

Hosted at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Tulsa, the event included breakout sessions centered around leadership and technology in the cyber sector as well as trends and challenges in the areas of transportation, energy, electricity, finance and IoT governance.

Former CIA Director John Brennan

“The University of Tulsa has been a leader in cybersecurity for more than two decades,” said Tyler Moore, Tandy Associate Professor of Cyber Security & Information Assurance. “Until now, we’ve been somewhat of a best-kept secret. Many of the students and alumni we’ve trained have gone on to the highest levels of government service, academia and industry. There’s a tremendous opportunity to leverage the expertise and talent that we have at the university in building a future economy that is diversified and that can make a significant difference to our nation’s security.”

Facebook Security Director Anchal Gupta

Cybersecurity in Tulsa

TU’s partnership with GKFF and Cox Business elevated Tulsa’s national exposure as a center of cybersecurity education, entrepreneurship and innovation. The Tulsa Cyber Summit enhances the city’s growing community of energy, manufacturing, technology and aerospace industries.

TU’s Tandy School of Computer Science holds three cyber designations by the National Security Agency and produces many of the nation’s top experts in cyber operations, cyber defense and research while preparing students to fill critical roles at organizations such as the U.S. Department of Defense, NSA, National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Department of Transportation and National Institute of Justice. The university also offers several computer science and cybersecurity degree options, including an exclusive online master’s program for professionals.

“Tulsa is putting its name on the map and has for many years as far as being a center of excellence on cybersecurity and IT matters,” Brennan said. “I believe that academic environment is so important because the next generation of Americans, the students at The University of Tulsa, are the ones that need to pick up this mantel and address the challenges that we face as a nation.”

Thousands of cybersecurity jobs that require the skills of a qualified cyber professional remain unfilled across the United States, and the U.S. military’s cyber defense capabilities indicate areas of weakness in protecting the country from potential adversaries. As the backdrop for the new Tulsa Enterprise for Cyber Innovation, Talent and Entrepreneurship Cyber District, the city of Tulsa is primed to prepare the next generation of cybersecurity professionals.

Stay up-to-date with our True Blue stories or read the Tulsa World’s coverage of the Tulsa Cyber Summit.

TU alumni John and Crystal Lister battle cyber threats

As University of Tulsa alumni, John and Crystal Lister are exploring the exciting career possibilities that a degree from the TU Tandy School of Computer Science provides. The husband and wife are members of the senior leadership team at Global Professional Services Group (GPSG) in Reston, Virginia. Although GPSG is primarily a recruiting company, John and Crystal implement their cyber capabilities to grow the enterprise and flex their cyber muscles in the digital security sector. They trace the expertise and skillset required to accomplish such a task back to Tulsa and their experience with cybersecurity projects at TU.

Learn more about a graduate degree in cybersecurity or computer science at TU.

Finding the TU Cyber Corps program

listerThe Listers first met while taking courses at Tulsa Community College and later married as undergraduate students at the University of Oklahoma. John was recruited to the TU Cyber Corps program, turning down a job in Australia, to begin his master’s degree. Crystal’s background in business and finance initially led her to a job at Boeing Co., where she also became interested in Cyber Corps.

“I started reflecting on how I could give back to my country — I was in the eighth grade at the time of the 1995 Oklahoma City Murrah Building bombing, and I was an undergrad during 9/11,” Crystal said.

Both Crystal and John taught computer classes at Moore Norman Technology Center to support themselves as undergraduates at OU. Their patriotism combined with a natural passion for understanding the intersection of the human element and technology led them to TU. They completed master of science degrees in computer science and fulfilled the Cyber Corps professional segment with federal service.

“It was a fantastic opportunity to use the brand-new skills TU had just developed to help the government safeguard assets for the American people and to strengthen operations to better defend the country,” John said about his federal service as a cyber officer.

For more than 10 years, Crystal also served in cyber threats and counterintelligence, informing senior policymakers about technical risks to infrastructure and operations.

“I was able to use a lot of the background from OU and TU blended together to provide insights on technical threats,” Crystal said. “My time here at TU instantly equipped me to hit the ground running and start making that contribution to our country.”

Careers at GPSG

The couple leverages their computer science and business backgrounds in the private sector today. John, vice president of cyber capabilities, and Crystal, senior director, insider and cyber threats, are instrumental in helping GPSG clients understand cybersecurity vulnerabilities and develop custom security programs.

lister“We’ll help a company transition to the Cloud or find encryption or data protection solutions to protect them against nonstate hackers and more stealthy, persistent adversaries,” John said.

Crystal oversees GPSG’s internal insider threat risk management program and engages with executive clients on cybersecurity consulting, developing methodologies to help clients move securely to Cloud solutions, protect data and set up insider risk programs. Her team has created an interactive scenarios training curriculum on prevention, detection and response of insider threats for clients.

TU the foundation of their success

listerCrystal says TU courses such as digital forensics prepared her for the career she’s built today. “I loved everything about it,” she said. “It helped me become a leader later, managing targeting, technical digital media exploitation teams and looking for key insights to support our policymakers.”

John said their student experience in Cyber Corps involved incredibly unique partnerships with public service organizations such as the Tulsa Police Department and federal units. They contributed to solving criminal cases, analyzing cell phone forensics and other critical operations. Those hands-on components laid the groundwork for successful ventures later in their careers.

“The opportunities we had here at TU to collaborate with the technical community helped us become leaders in the cyber industry,” he said.