CPP’s 2023 Cybersecurity and Awareness Fair focuses on surveillance capitalism

By Christian Contreras, Oct. 31, 2023

The annual Cybersecurity and Awareness Fair at Cal Poly Pomona returned Oct. 26 in the Bronco Student Center with workshops, presentations and hands-on demos accessible to anybody with an interest in cybersecurity.

In its 19th year, the CSAF provides a forum for experts, professionals, students and interested individuals to gather together and discuss the latest trends, technologies and best practices in cybersecurity.

The event hosted hundreds of attendees, with individuals from CPP, middle schools, high schools, and other universities all in attendance. In a world of surveillance capitalism, this year’s theme, “The Watchful Eye,” issued a call to action for all technology users to regain their privacy.

Christopher Laasch, interim director of IT Security & Compliance and coordinator of the CSAF, explained that after last year’s annual event, the students asked for a “1984” type themed event based on the novel by George Orwell for the following year.

“Obviously you can’t really do ‘1984’ very well as a theme, but what we did is take a look at the whole concept of what is happening to users and what they’re unaware of,” said Laasch. “You are constantly monitored wherever you go, whether it be on camera or what your cell phones are doing, your TV remote is listening to you, your thermostats are listening to you and most people don’t realize that most modern TVs have cameras and microphones in them just to watch you.”

In addition to live presentations, attendees got to participate in hands-on hacking demos, vote in poster contests, visit vendor exhibits and attend an industry luncheon.

Nick Espinosa, chief security fanatic of Security Fanatics, was one of the keynote speakers and he shared what he wanted the audience to take away from his presentation of taking them on a tour of the dark web.

Attendees at Cybersecurity Fair listen to speaker. | Andre Davancens

“A better understanding of the dark web, how dangerous it can be, and essentially what goes on there,” said Espinosa. “My goal is to kind of demystify this a little bit for everybody in the audience so that they understand exactly what goes on in the dark web, how dangerous it can be and why you never want your data to be there, because it’s pretty easy to buy.”

Jessica Leung, co-president of the Students with an Interest in the Future of Technology club  and a computer information systems student who recently accepted a job at SpaceX, explained why she believes the public should be interested in cybersecurity.

“I think now more than ever, our current state of just being a person living in this 21st century world is that we’re always connected to the internet, we’re always online, we’re always with a device on us and I think it’s really important to learn about how you can best protect yourself in this digital world,” Leung said. “Also, just be aware of the threats that are out there. Even if you’re not trying to go for a career in cybersecurity, it’s still important to understand what sort of threats you face as just a normal user.”

The event featured 13 speakers and seven types of hands-on demos. Presentation topics included “Unmasking Digital Extortion,” “Using AI for Threat-Hunting,” “Exploring Blockchain & Cybersecurity Solutions for the Internet of Energy,” and many more.

The CSAF also hosted Rex Lee as the second keynote speaker for the day, who gave a virtual presentation on the threats posed by surveillance capitalism. Lee is a security advisor and tech journalist who specializes in endpoint cybersecurity and consults for major corporations. He has also been an advisor to the Department of Homeland Security and elected officials in Congress. Most recently, Lee was an advisor to Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn for the Facebook whistleblower congressional hearings involving Frances Haugen.

“I think awareness is the key here,” said Lee. “It’s not just predatory business practices that are employed by app and platform and operating system developers. It’s being aware of adversaries that are using these vulnerabilities in these operating systems and apps to attack and understanding how much surveillance and data mining is being done on you and understanding what your civil liberties are that are being impacted by your privacy.”

Additionally, a cybersecurity workforce job fair was held, which provided a unique opportunity for students because employers from companies like Northrop Grumman and the CIA attended the hands-on demos students were leading and participating in, so students got “interviewed” before they even spoke to potential employers.

“They have the strong opportunity of getting a job from everything they’ve done in this event,” said Laasch. “If you engage in the event and you participate, you are most likely going to come out with an internship or a job when it’s all over.”

Feature Image by Christian Contreras

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