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On Thursday evening, November 21, GMercyU’s Computer Information Science Program hosted a fascinating webinar on cyberespionage and cyberterrorism with retired FBI agent, William Ebersole, JD, CPA, CFE, GISF.
While working for the Bureau for more than 20 years, Ebersole performed terrorist threat assessments, successfully investigated Ponzi and other financial schemes, and conducted terrorism funding investigations and training on behalf of the Counterterrorism Division.
Today, Ebersole’s self-described “retirement job” is in the private sector, working for Disney Cruise Line as a Security Compliance/Emergency Manager. “The cruise industry is highly regulated, so there’s a lot of rules related to security and safety, and we have to self-audit,” he explained. “I also help prepare the company for emergencies, so we do all kinds of exercises – an active shooter drill, a terrorist attack, a simulated pirate attack – and make sure that we respond appropriately.”
During the webinar, Ebersole shared what kinds of cases FBI agents work on as opposed to police at the state or local level. “There are very few cases where a murder get prosecuted on the federal level,” he said. “Most of your homicides are handled by state and local officers.”
To illustrate what cybercrime, cyberespionage, and cyberterrorism are, he also reviewed several cases, including the infamous hacking of Sands Casino a few years ago. “The owner of the Sands made some unpleasant public remarks about the country of Iran, which has very sophisticated hackers, so they decided to pay him back,” Ebersole explained. “They conducted a brute password attack on a senior level technician at the Sands who had access to servers in Bethlehem and in Las Vegas. They took full control of the servers and did about $40 million in damage.”
Part of Ebersole’s work required learning the motivation of these crimes, whether they were looking to make economic gain or a political statement, or looking to cripple another rival country. For example, historically, those engaging in spying were interested in military technology and military plans. What has changed is that foreign countries have shifted to using cyber spying techniques (“cyberespionage”) to help develop not just military information but economic intelligence that gives them a competitive edge against U.S. businesses. Almost 90% of all U.S. breaches affecting U.S. businesses had an economic motive, said Ebersole. Engineers, researchers, and scientists spend a lot of time and money developing technology, and a foreign government is able to obtain that technology, even through traditional Cold War spying techniques.
Before taking questions from students, Ebersole shared his career advice for those interested in pursuing this line of work.
Internships are critical, as are mentors. “Many of the mentors I developed early in my career, I still talk to today,” he said, “and many of the techniques I learned in internships I used up until retirement.”
Research your intended career path and aim to do what you love. “Those who were the most happy in the FBI were the ones who knew what the Bureau was about, what it did, and what it did not do – and I think that applies to just about every profession.”
Some careers require multiple steps. Many roles require years of experience or advanced degrees, so you may not get there right out of college, but that’s OK, he said. Also, “if you look to work in the government, they’re subject to budgetary constraints, so you might not get a government position you want right out of school, but certainly stick with it. It took me a couple years out of law school to make it into the FBI,” he said.
Foreign language capabilities and advanced degrees are extremely helpful. Knowing another language “will help you get hired and help you get additional pay and travel opportunities," said Ebersole. "If you have a proficiency in a foreign language, get a master’s in that language skill because it will help you when you’re tested." (There is a military language test you’ll need to score well on to qualify for certain opportunities.) Ebersole also recommended that you pursue an advanced degree when you’re younger and in the discipline of studying – those degrees will help you compete in a competitive market.
Specialize if you can. Ebersole gave Digital Forensics as an example. “This is a dynamite career to get into,” he said, explaining that the industry is becoming specialized, and that becoming a master in a specific field can allow you to become an expert witness in court. “It might be that your expertise is Apple, and Apple only,” he said.
Be willing to relocate. When it comes to the federal government in particular, you need to be willing to move. “Even some state and local police will hire you and move you to a different location just so you’re not subject to compromise or criticism – at least for the short-term.”
Finally, Ebersole addressed the requirement of passing a security clearance, and how what you do today can affect if you pass in the future – for example, if you carry a lot of debt and aren’t managing it well or if you have questionable roommates who are partaking in drug use or other criminal practices. He cautioned all to be careful about what you post online and on social media.
And, he recommended that you maintain a relationship with a college professor who can serve as a reference for you in the future.
“GMercyU’s Computer Information Science Program will be hosting a series of webinars from experts in the fields of cybersecurity, cyberterrorism, digital forensics, programing, and web design,” said GMercyU CIS Program Coordinator and Instructor Cindy Casey.
“These free lectures and workshops will provide attendees with relevant information and advice that they can take away and use as they plan their educational and career paths. The webinars are open to current and prospective students, the GMercyU community, and the general public.”