Duane Dunston, Cybersecurity Professor, Author, CyberPatriot Mentor

Almost everyone uses computers but very few know how to defend them. General Suzanne Vautrinot, the first woman to lead the Air Force’s Cyber Command, says of cyber defense, “I can’t imagine anything more important. The more dependent we are on a capability, the more important the defense of that capability.” There’s a very urgent and growing need to shore up our cyber defenses and train cybersecurity talent. Duane Dunston works at the forefront of this mission as an Assistant Professor of Cybersecurity at Champlain. For the last four years, he has also been a mentor in the CyberPatriot program.

The CyberPatriot program was started by the Air Force Association in 2009 to attract middle and high school students to academic study and careers in cybersecurity or STEM fields. Through the program, 11–18 year olds learn how to defend different operating systems and platforms from cyberattacks. Mentors like Duane teach the students how to find and fix a variety of cybersecurity vulnerabilities in simulated networks. The students also learn how to act responsibly and ethically in the cybersphere and use technology in a way that is appropriate, responsible, and respectful of others. Along the way, they learn how to protect themselves. One student who participated in the program is now studying Cybersecurity at Champlain.

CyberPatriot students listening to Duane Dunston at a recent cyber training day at Champlain College.

Duane received a grant three years ago to purchase a server which is now used as a virtual training tool for schools that don’t have their own IT resources. Schools as far away as Rhode Island, New York, and Oklahoma all have remote access to the server.

Duane got into cybersecurity back in 1997, when a computer at his alma mater was hacked. “The hackers were in Brazil and they hacked into this small town in the middle of North Carolina. It was amazing to me,” says Duane. From that point on, cybersecurity became an obsession. He worked on old, beat-up computers at home to hone his skills.

We asked Duane about the importance of cybersecurity:
We depend so much on technology—we don’t realize how much so until the technology is unavailable. We take for granted that our private information will remain private. We all have communications and discussions we’d prefer to keep secret. And to say, “don’t put it in an email or in a text,” is problematic because email and text are how we communicate today. Calling someone is considered safer but any cell phone call can be recorded undetected.

I used to work for NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and the most common comment I heard there was, “why does NOAA need cybersecurity people?” Well, weather and oceanic data have a significant impact on the economy. Water levels are critical for the safe shipment of products. Airline traffic control needs real-time weather reports. Tornado warning systems must be functional. Even the military needs reliable weather information—whether it’s to sustain life and property, or just for day-to-day operations and communication channels. Solar flares can impact radio communication, including aviation and emergency disaster relief operations. These are just a few of the services NOAA provides that show how critical it could be if information is unavailable due to an attack.

What advice would you give a student who wants to get into the cybersecurity field?
Be curious and keep an open mind. While you’re learning about cybersecurity, it is tempting to show off your skills. Don’t forget there are legal and ethical implications, as in any field. Improve your speaking, writing, and social interaction skills. Technical skills can be learned and mastered. Speaking, writing, and interacting with people will make up a majority of your time—especially writing. Learn how to use virtual technologies so you can experiment and unleash your curiosity in an environment that doesn’t affect real people and organizations.

You might have seen Duane on WCAX or read his articles in VTDigger. He covers issues related to cybersecurity, like protecting your data, parental controls, ransomware attacks, and even protecting our democratic process. He dedicates his time to service projects that help victims of human trafficking and advocates for using technology to promote social change.

Duane is this week’s Shout Out, a weekly high five to people doing amazing things at Champlain! Know someone—student, faculty, or staff—who deserves the spotlight? Nominate them by emailing studentwriters@champlain.edu!