Careers in Cyber Security Featuring UMUC Faculty Jesse Varsalone

October is “National Cyber Awareness” month. To better understand this growing and ever-changing field, University of Maryland University College’s (UMUC) Office of Career Services is highlighting the University’s cybersecurity experts to examine career and industry trends, and to provide students and alumni a chance to learn about different career paths within this industry.

jesse-varsalone-headshotRecently, UMUC Cybersecurity Associate Professor Jesse Varsalone sat down to speak about trends and insights into cybersecurity. In addition to teaching both undergraduate and graduate level cybersecurity courses at UMUC, for the last five years Varsalone has also taught at the Defense Cyber Investigations Training Academy (DCITA) where he was a member of the network intrusions track. He holds a number of certifications in the information technology field, including A+, Net+, iNet+, Server+, Linux+, CTT+, CISSP, MSCE, CCNA, and CCNA Security.  Varsalone has a master’s degree from the University of South Florida (Tampa, FL), and a bachelor’s from George Mason University (Fairfax, VA). He has written and contributed to several publications, including Defense Against the Black Arts: How Hackers Do What They Do and How to Protect against It. Varsalone also wrote the entire series of labs for Security+, Ethical Hacking, Forensics, and Network Security for NDG’s netlab.


Q. How important is ethical hacking in protecting against cyber threats? How is UMUC educating today’s cybersecurity students to proactively identify and prevent such attacks in the workplace

A. In order to understand how to properly defend a network, you need to know the actions an attacker takes. Being trained in Ethical Hacking allows defenders to better understand how to look for the signs of an attack within log files, network captures, and within the file structure of the operating system

Q. What career paths could one pursue working in cybersecurity?

A. Some of the current career paths in cybersecurity include Cyber Analyst, Incident Responder, Computer Forensics Investigator, Network Administrator, PenTester.

Q. What inspired you to pursue a career path in the cybersecurity field? What education path did you pursue? How did you begin your career

A. I started programming video games in the 1980’s. I was using an Atari computer with a tape drive. When I got my first Commodore Amiga, I bought a modem and started using the Internet. I like the rapid change that is part of the field as it keeps things interesting and new

Q. How have some of your career experiences shaped you into the professional you are today

A. Working as a DoD contractor helped me to understand what cyber security really means; what the threats are, who the attackers are and where they come from, how attackers get into systems and what they take. In my career, I have had an opportunity to work as an attacker and as a defender. Attacking networks has helped me to understand how to defend networks better. Analyzing logs or implementing security on devices helps me to understand how I might exploit possible weaknesses.

Q. What personality and character traits must cybersecurity professionals possess?

A. You must not be afraid to learn new things and must have a willingness to admit there is a lot you still do not know. The most important aspect is to be able to apply your skills and adapt to new situations.

Q. What advice would you give UMUC students entering the field of cybersecurity?

A. For CNAS majors, the Security track covers a broader range of topics and may give you the most opportunity because it gives you the most versatility. The Cisco, Microsoft, and Forensics tracks are all very solid programs, but those certification tracks are more specialized

Q. For UMUC students and alumni already working in the field, what advice would you give them on how to keep advancing within the industry?

A. Keep up to date using social media to learn about trends in the field. By following cyber experts on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook, I see the wealth of knowledge of great cyber security related articles in my newsfeed. UMUC’s cyber padawans are composed of students, alumni, and cybersecurity faculty, and other team members who study in a variety of cyber security and IT programs at UMUC. They have a Google group with lots of good information, but membership is limited to people who have gotten through the tryout successfully.

Q. Any final thoughts or recommendations you want to share with UMUC students and alumni

A. Please consider joining the cyber padawans as UMUC has a very successful team and has won many competitions. The team competes in a variety of offensive, defensive, and policy related competitions. Click here to learn more.

For more information on career opportunities and resources available to UMUC students and alumni from the Office of Career Services, click here.

Jennifer Tomasovic is the director, Communications for Career Services and Alumni Relations at University of Maryland University College. She has spent her 15 year career crafting communications strategies and messages using both marketing and public relations tactics enhancing the brand and reputation for both the clients and organizations she has represented.