Interview: David Shrier, Oxford Cyber Future

The challenge of educating more senior and experienced members of staff usually requires purely online training, or the demands of after-work education. Is there a better way for your executives to learn about cybersecurity issues in a way that reframes cybersecurity as an opportunity for businesses?

Created by Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford and backed by Mastercard, a new online program has been launched by Oxford Cyber Futures, and is aimed at equipping senior executives to help them address new cyber-risks and opportunities.

Oxford Cyber Futures said the intention of the course was to “reframe the challenges presented by an increasingly complex global cybersecurity landscape” with research, content and data presented by academics and industry leaders. This will allow participants to gain an understanding of new concepts in software architecture, analyze critical issues in cybersecurity and learn about digital privacy, net neutrality, data governance, artificial intelligence and digital ethics, and how they change the way society and businesses operate.

Speaking to Infosecurity, program director David Shrier said that the six-week digital program was aiming to do two things: provide working professionals with the tools and frameworks that they can immediately use at work, and take cybersecurity from the realm of “fear-based selling to an opportunity” where cyber is communicated well.

He said there is an intention here to redefine online learning, and “design a natively digital experience, where we use artificial intelligence to improve how students interact with each other, and we help make the distance group learning experience better.” He added that group learning is often based on in-person learning, so rather than make the students watch a 45 minute lecture, the course is broken down into short videos and includes assessments to reinforce the messages.

“This is more than breaking the lecture into short videos, you have to do stuff between the videos,” Shrier said. “You’re mixing modes and your brain is constantly being rebooted – as it were – to engage with the material and it produces better learning outcomes.”

Shrier said he believed it was the first organization to take this approach of “going from cyber-fear to cyber-opportunity – hence the name Cyber Futures.”

Another element of the course involves “experiential learning” where the participant is in a simulation of being in senior management of a company which has been hacked, and the simulation responds to the actions of the participant. “What we’re trying to avoid is for things to look like Equifax, that is one of many examples, as once the attack happened it was almost a textbook case of what not to do, in terms of immediate response and investor relations,” he said

The program is not designed for the CISO, he explained, saying this is “for everyone they have to work with” and trying to improve the cyber-literacy in an organization to reduce human errors. “Learning, compliance training and education should be engaging and not like a trip to the dentist, and that is what we try to do when we design these programs,” he said. “Our aspiration is to be as good as a really amazing TED talk, but also bring academic rigor, so you have got something practical and tangible that you can start using.”

In terms of logistics, the six-week program begins in late June, and costs £2850 to study for the full program and each student has a week to complete the materials, so a new module it released weekly and all students complete the course at the same time.

“When you finish the program you get a certificate from the University of Oxford and we see employers begin to recognize that you’ve been through a rigorous program, that has some credential value, and it is viewed as meaningful by employers,” he said.

Shrier explained that he has been running courses with Esme Learning for five years, and with Cyber Futures has taken the lessons learned with new technologies, and it begins on June 30 with an orientation week beginning the week before.

Looking forward, he said that there are plans about where this can go in the future, and there is a “gratifying level of interest” from prospective students and partners, and there has been a positive response to it.

“There are highly technical classes for someone who wants to be a CISO, but we have not seen enough in this sort of adult short course educational sphere from a tier one university bringing cybersecurity knowledge to the masses. Everybody is affected by it, and everybody needs it.”

Enrolment is now open and further program information is available here

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