5/23/13 Gene Spafford

Computer Science professor Eugene Spafford sits in the Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security's library. 

In between attending meetings in Washington D.C. and teaching computer science students, one professor hopes to teach understanding about the cost of losing something important.

Eugene Spafford, a Computer Science professor specializing in cybersecurity, aims to teach people that understanding is the biggest problem facing cybersecurity today, and with problems being so complex, it’s hard to find the right solution.

“If I had to boil it all down, to one thing, it’s understanding,”Spafford said. “It’s understanding the risk of what might get lost, understanding how easy it is to lose it, understanding why others would want to take the information or destroy the information. And based on that, understand the right precautions to put in place and how much money to spend to fix things.”

Spafford said regardless of the scale of the problem, understanding the problem, what someone is trying to protect themselves from and the cost of protection is important. What he calls “the security mindset” is that people think security is about having the right technology, but there’s more to it than that.

“You may have a really good password on your computer and all the patches installed,” Spafford said, “but if someone really wants something on it, they’ll break into your house and steal it.”

Spafford sparked an interest in computers as an undergraduate student, but did not get really into computer security until much later. Since beginning his career at Purdue in 1987 as an assistant professor, Spafford has done more than just security research; now Spafford gets media attention as a guest on talk shows, radio shows and various other media outlets, not to mention being on presidential advisory boards and consulting.

Currently, Spafford is a guest contributor to CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS,” where he answers questions from viewers about their cyber security questions. Within the next week or so, the first of Spafford’s answers will be available to the viewers who have submitted them.

Spafford remains busy working on campus teaching, working for numerous Purdue organizations and consulting for government agencies and law firms. In between all of this, he manages to find time to read, garden and spend time with his family.

“I do some work consulting with a couple of national agencies — the (Government Accountability Office) GAO, the FBI, and the Naval Academy. What I try to do is help them understand how to improve what they do and some of the technology. With the Naval Academy, it’s improving how they teach it, with the GAO in how they evaluate it and the FBI in how they investigate it.”

Tim Korb, assistant department head of Computer Science, showcased Spafford’s apparent amicable side as he pulled out a gift that Spafford had recently given to him

“He has a funny sense of humor,” Korb said. “He dropped this off by my office not too long ago, a remote-control flying shark, he thought I might like to have it and fly it around the commons downstairs.”

Korb said Spafford is an approachable person to have around in he can talk about anything and always seems to know something about everything.

Although Spafford has received numerous accolades throughout his career, the humble professor considered it all a part of his job. Spafford said that “if it helps create awareness then it’s worthwhile.”

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