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Conference returns to San Juan College March 27-28

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FARMINGTON — One of the primary goals of the CyberCon Four Corners event presented each year at San Juan College is to make young people aware of the growing need for trained cyber security experts and the occupational opportunities that exist in that field.

Dr. Bradley Purdy, dean of the School of Business and Information at the college, said that message only grows more urgent as time goes by.

"Even in New Mexico, we are not getting close to training enough professionals to help us out," he said of the number of people responding to that call.

The conference returns to the college for its fourth year next week. Business and Professional Day is scheduled from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 27, while Youth and Family Day takes place from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday, March 28. All events will be held in the 9000 rooms of the Henderson Fine Arts Center on the college campus, 4601 College Blvd. in Farmington.

Purdy believes working in cyber security is an attractive opportunity for young people for many reasons.

"It's an exciting field, so we don't have to sell it," he said. "It's an idea related to the digital world they're already living in, so it's an idea they can connect with pretty quickly."

It also has appeal for those who might approach it strictly from a mercenary perspective, he said.

"How hard is the work and how much do I make?" are questions Purdy fields a lot from potential cyber security workers.

More: San Juan College's third annual CyberCon focuses on proactive protection of online assets, identity

"We don't shy away from that," he said. "The answers are, it's a lot of work and you'll make a lot of dollars."

It's also a field with a great deal of job security, given the fact that there aren't nearly enough qualified people to fill all the openings that arise each year. Purdy said the only field that comes close to matching cyber security for job growth is the health care field, where there aren't nearly enough workers to provide care for aging baby boomers.

"The more we are living in a digital age, the more we need people to do this kind of work," he said.

It's also a very challenging field, given the number of malevolent forces at work to compromise the cyber security of individuals, businesses and institutions. Purdy said he tries to shy away from frightening people about the risks they face online in terms of having their identity stolen or their privacy violated. But he balances that concern with the need to give them an accurate idea of what those risks are, he said.

Purdy said those risks have grown considerably since San Juan College held its first CyberCon event in 2016. That means conference organizers have had to stay on top of the latest trends and issues that match the pace of those changes.

In that first year, Purdy said the conference simply addressed the basics of cyber security. That information continues to be presented each year, he said, but with 50 to 70 percent of participants in this year's conference expected to be returnees from past years, conference organizers make a point of offering sessions that address evolving issues and threats. Purdy said the level of information offered at the conference has changed dramatically over time.

That's true no matter which day of the conference a participant attends, he said, noting that while some of the language and concepts may be streamlined, the same topics are covered on Youth and Family Day as during Business and Professional Day.

"We don't dumb it down," he said. "We don't give them fluff. We give them information they can go back and use with their families."

A full slate of speakers is scheduled to address the crowd throughout the two-day event. Wednesday's headliner is Daniel Ziesmer, president and CEO of Centripetum LLC, a business that deals with security and risk for small to mid-size entities. Ziesmer will present an address titled "Death by a Thousand Paper Cuts: The Small Business Security Problem" and lead a breakout session called "Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Questions: Fad? Fraud? Future? Or All of the Above?"

Other speakers include Christopher Hammer, the director of information security for Advanced Network Management Inc., who will discuss "Security Culture Hacking: Disrupting the Security Status Quo"; Ryan Bono, CEO and owner of the Securro Group of Durango, Colorado; Richard Medina, an assistant professor of computer science at New Mexico Highlands University; Richard Hammer, a retired research scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory; detective Erik Barlow of the San Juan County Sheriff's Office; and Jill Bishop, coordinator of the Center for Students Careers and Employment at San Juan College.

Purdy also will deliver an address on both days of the conference. His presentation is called "Understand and Apply the Concepts of the CIA Triad of Confidentiality, Integrity and Availability. He said it would help participants understand the concepts of the CIA cyber security framework widely used by government entities and large corporations, and how individuals and small businesses can apply them for their own use.

Purdy said perhaps the most rewarding aspect of how the conference has changed over the years is how those who attend on an annual basis have come to rely on each other to help spread information.

"They speak to each other," he said. "A lot of answers happen from someone sitting across the table. In a lot of cases, they've both experienced the same thing."

All events are free, but participants must register, as seating is limited. Visit sanjuancollege.edu/cybercon2019, or call Sam Cockrell at 505-566-3317 or email Kathi Hail at hailk@sanjuancollege.edu.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610.

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