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Cybersecurity expert talks about internet safety at UB

Last week, Theresa Payton, cybersecurity expert and former White House CIO, spoke at UB as part of the Distinguished Speaker Series.

Payton, who was the first female CIO of cybersecurity at the White House, now has her own company for private cybersecurity.

Payton attended Immaculata University for undergraduate school. She said she went into college thinking, "I have to be employable when I get out of here." With that goal in mind, Payton completed a double major in business and economics with a certification in computers.

After graduating, Payton received a call from the admissions office at University of Virginia, who wanted her to go to graduate school at their university in an attempt to get more women into their technology programs. Payton finished her graduate degree in just three semesters and went on to work at a Bank of America in Florida.

When asked why she decided to dedicate her life to technology, Payton said, "This career chose me. …I was always having to think about ‘how do I create technology our customers want to use, while at the same time not letting the bad guys get between us and the bank?’ "

Payton is passionate about her work, and said passion is incredibly important when choosing a career path.

"Life is too short to go to a job you don’t like," Payton said. She went on to say that teenagers must ask themselves, "What drives me? Who is it I want to help? What do I like to do?"

Payton also said it is important to move around and try different things. Nothing is set in stone so early in your career.

For example, Payton never expected to work in the White House when she graduated from Immaculata, but she tried new things and the White House came calling once she did.

It was during her time working in Florida that Payton was called by the White House to serve as CIO under George W. Bush.

Upon her arrival, many people told Payton "you’re not what we expected." She soon realized her co-workers expected a male to fill the position of CIO. For this reason, Payton said, she felt a responsibility to be a good female role model and do everything possible to be successful.

"It has shaped my passion and desire to protect this country and our allies more than I could ever imagine," Payton said of her work.

While at the White House, she had to figure out how to connect political affairs and lives with new technology.

Payton worked in the White House for 2½ years before starting her own company.

She started her business to make a difference and find new answers to old problems.

Payton has learned a lot since she started her company, Fortalice Solutions. She has written two books about cybersecurity, "Privacy in the Age of Big Data: Recognizing Threats, Defending Your Rights, and Protecting Your Family" and "Protecting Your Internet Identity: Are You Naked Online?"

In these books, Payton talks about the importance of segmenting life online, as well as being skeptical of online activity.

Payton talked about segmenting interactions online based on social media and personal identity. She said using one user name and password for social media, but a different user name and password for a bank account or insurance account is important.

This may not seem important to teenagers, but as college approaches and teens get jobs, seeing banking information online becomes more common. Starting to protect yourself early, even in the simplest ways, can make a big difference when dealing with online criminals.

Payton also mentioned being cautious and skeptical online. "Have a healthy dose of skepticism when someone reaches out to you," she said.

This can be especially challenging for teenagers using social media, because 93 percent of teens said they go online to engage with people. However, everyone needs to be cautious about opening links sent online and about people contacting others through online sources.

Everyone is in charge of their own online presence and safety. "For us as individuals, we have to care about ourselves, no one is looking out for you," Payton said. "Make a best-faith effort to protect yourself."

Payton said teens have a really good handle on protecting their privacy, however, they still have to be careful about posting online. Once something is posted online, it’s nearly impossible to get it taken down, so being thoughtful about what is being posted online is vital.

"The internet never forgets," Payton said. "I always say, if you wouldn’t do it with your grandmother and mother looking over your shoulder, you probably shouldn’t post it online."

Sarah Crawford is a sophomore at Nardin Academy.


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