Six questions with the ISU Information Assurance Center director

When it comes to knowledge about the cybersecurity realm and ways to keep technology safe, you would be hard pressed to find a better resource on Iowa State University’s campus than Doug Jacobson. As a professor of electrical and computer engineering and the director of the ISU Information Assurance Center, Jacobson teaches network security and information warfare, and has written a textbook on network security. In conjunction with National Cybersecurity Awareness Month — which runs through the duration of October — Jacobson sat down with Information Technology Services to answer the top questions of students looking to pursue a career in cybersecurity.

How long have you worked in cybersecurity and what kind of changes have you seen within the field over the years?
I’ve been in cybersecurity since 1990. Several years ago, we saw a shift in attackers because they figured out how to monetize attacking, which was hard in the 90s. Today, it’s very profitable to steal money, credit cards, identities, and information.

What is the biggest challenge currently facing cybersecurity experts?
There are three: getting the general population to help protect themselves, which goes beyond a few helpful tips because they’re targets and have no way of really defending themselves against dynamic threats; interweaving cybersecurity into various educational programs because non-security experts don’t always design for security; and the sophistication and skill of our adversaries, because they’re good at what they do and are getting better.

What kind of career opportunities are there in cybersecurity?
Cybersecurity professionals protect organizations ranging from local businesses, to multinational companies, to government agencies, do security analyses, make security recommendations, test and stress an organization’s defenses, or they can design products and software with security in mind.


Doug Jacobson, professor of electrical and computer engineering and director of the Iowa State University Information Assurance Center.
Photo courtesy of Sarah Hays 


What personality traits are the most important to have as a cybersecurity professional?
Curiosity, persistence, and adaptability. You have to think of things differently, and want to think of things differently. Different areas require varying levels of expertise, but it’s such a broad area. It’s not something only a computer scientist or engineer can solve.

What makes cybersecurity a rewarding field to work in?
Every day is different, and it’s exciting, even with the challenges. You always have to learn and adapt, and it’s intellectually stimulating to be part of this field.

What advice would you offer to anyone considering a career in cybersecurity?
Be curious and see if you’re drawn to anything, then find educational opportunities – they’re out there. High schools and colleges offer opportunities, and people in the workforce can go through more training or retraining to enter the field. There are a lot of resources out there, so take advantage of them.