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Security Outside the Box: The Importance of Critical Thinking

By Emily Erlien

Growing up in Nairobi, Kenya, Daniel Mugambi describes his childhood as being “always around computers.” His relationship to them was different than most of ours: instead of spending his hours glued to the screen, he was fascinated by what happened inside the machines. “I would take them apart and try put them back together,” he remembers. Those around him know Mugambi as intensely curious, a trait that goes hand in hand with his ability to think deeply and critically. The same impulses that drove him to understand the inner workings of computers are what make him an excellent future cyber professional. In his own words, “Cybersecurity professionals dedicate their lives to the protection of other’s livelihood and privacy—it’s an honorable duty.”

In the fight against cyber-crime, knowing the laws of cybersecurity isn’t enough. In fact, often laws are nonexistent (at least in the way we think of scientific laws) because the field evolves too quickly for their development. The types of cyber professionals who make it in this ever-evolving field aren’t the students who memorize and are good test takers. “Companies are compromised because hackers are able to think outside the box,” says Mugambi. “They find that one small opportunity and suddenly hold the keys to the kingdom” Hackers succeed because, in thinking outside the box, they find something that hasn’t been thought of before and are able to gain control of entire networks. Likewise, the cyber professionals who succeed are the ones who can think critically—the ones who jump outside the box with hackers and critically examine the situation to find a solution. As a student assistant at Carolina Cyber Center (C3), Daniel Mugambi is one such individual.

As he studies to become a Penetration Tester, Mugambi uses his ability to think critically and operate outside the box to go on the offensive. He explains his field of interest (Penetration Testing) as being able to “measure an organization’s security by hacking into their system. By mimicking a real attacker’s method, we see if the organization’s defenses are up.” Instead of passively allowing attacks to occur, Mugambi creates crisis within a safe context, demonstrating the necessity of critical thinking in the field of cybersecurity. “In cybersecurity, critical thinking is the difference being ten steps ahead of black-hat hackers (the bad guys), or getting hacked—it’s a requirement if we are going to outsmart malicious attacks.” If thinking outside the box is what gives hackers a foothold in our organizations, then we must do more than think originally: we must think critically.

In a country that is “pervasively ill-prepared” (read what Adam Bricker, Executive Director of the Carolina Cyber Center has to say about the Colonial Pipeline attack here) to protect its critical infrastructure, we need more individuals like Daniel Mugambi. Starting on July 12th, the Carolina Cyber Center begins its Cyber Defense Analyst 6-month cohort for students age 17-21. If you are a critical thinker who believes in protecting our country’s infrastructure, this is for you. Apply before the application deadline to begin your cybersecurity journey and join Daniel Mugambi in protecting our data.

At Carolina Cyber Center, we seek to create cyber professionals of character—individuals with Critical Thinking, Grit, Discipline, Curiosity and Collaboration—whether they begin as an amateur fresh out of high school, mid-life career changers, or are cyber professionals continuing their education. To learn more about what the Carolina Cyber Center offers, visit our website or call us at 828.419.0737.

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