Internet Safety Month Student Profile: Ethan O’Leske

Ethan O'Leske

In celebration of Internet Safety Month, UA Little Rock is profiling students researchers working in this area.

Tell us about yourself?

My name is Ethan O’Leske. I was born and raised in Little Rock, AR, and am currently pursuing a B.S. in Computer Science at UA Little Rock. From my early adolescence, I was drawn to technical skills like software development and programming, because it helped me understand the technology I interacted with everyday. As I reflect on my three years spent at UA Little Rock, I find that these skills have drawn me towards cybersecurity, in large part due to work at a research center on campus, the Emerging Analytics Center.

Why did you choose UA Little Rock?

While I liked that UA Little Rock was in my hometown, the main reason I chose UA Little Rock over other local universities was because of its focus on research and student involvement. This focus allows for a much deeper and meaningful education, through professionally applicable experience and a closer connection to what we study. I believe it is UA Little Rock’s commitment to student-led research that sets it apart from other universities.

What do you find interesting about your major?

I find that computer science as a major is often oversimplified. In reality, it leads to a broad range of careers and industries, from cybersecurity specialists to user experience designers to software developers. It’s fascinating how many different trajectories a professional can experience from one major. I would discourage students from thinking that computer science is not for them, without looking at these career potentials. This major can be highly technical, artistic, philosophical or interdisciplinary, depending on the specific route.

What kind of research and projects are you working on at UA Little Rock that are related to internet safety?

The primary research project I have been involved in regarding internet safety is called Spartan, which I work on through the Emerging Analytics Center. Spartan is a vulnerability management application intended to be used as a tool by cybersecurity specialists. A vulnerability is anything on a cyber device that can be exploited by a malicious actor to compromise the security of the cyber system. Even moderately sized companies could have hundreds of devices that may have vulnerabilities to be exploited by anyone with an internet connection. 

Spartan is intended to help these companies track the vulnerabilities that apply to their system and patch them in the most efficient way. To achieve this, we have implemented technologies such as artificial intelligence and natural language processing to automate a lot of the work done by cybersecurity specialists everyday. Many of the companies funding the research for this project are in critical infrastructure industries, who use tools like these to ensure the utilities we rely on cannot be interfered with.

Since June is Internet Safety Month, do you have any advice for how people can keep themselves safe online?

Any form of security is all about practicing good habits and having a plan. For internet safety, it’s important to form good habits such as not posting private information publicly, using a password manager with strong passwords, updating devices promptly to receive any security patches and only using trusted internet resources.

Inevitably, there may come a time where precautions fail, and it’s important to know what to do in these circumstances. For example, if one’s credit card information is stolen, then they must know how to report the theft. There are many good online resources to ensure you are prepared; one example would be the United States’ Government disaster and emergency preparation public service campaign called Ready (https://www.ready.gov/cybersecurity).

What do you plan to do after you graduate? What is your future career?

One advantage about computer science and cybersecurity is the breadth of opportunities that exist for both entry-level and established professionals. While this is exciting, it does make it harder for me to nail down exactly which opportunity to leverage. I have aspirations to earn a graduate degree in computer science, but I may choose to enter the workforce in either software development or cybersecurity if there is an opportunity to do so.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

One of the biggest events of 2021 has been the onset of ransomware attacks targeting small-to-medium-sized companies, such as JBS and the Colonial Pipeline. Though these attacks are symptoms of how institutions like companies and governments have approached cybersecurity over the past couple decades, they dealt a disproportionate amount of harm towards individuals. These recent events should highlight the importance of cybersecurity, and the dangers of not taking these issues as seriously as experts suggest. 

Many of us worry about our personal cybersecurity, but, in our interconnected world, we are increasingly more reliant on the cybersecurity of our critical infrastructure, financial institutions, industries and others. It is important that we all make ourselves aware about these issues and speak out where it is necessary. We can only do so much by ourselves. Collectively, we have the power to make our communities safer and more secure.

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