Keeping Users and Information Safe

Julia Fishman

Marist welcomes its first Director of Cybersecurity, Emily Harris.

April 20, 2020—Computing is practically in Emily Harris’s genes. Her father was an MIT-educated programmer and she grew up around computers. “In fourth grade, I was typing my homework,” she recalled. “Very few kids were doing that during my childhood.”

Harris headed in a different direction when she set off for college: she attended Barnard College in New York City and majored in historical musicology. But old habits die hard and by junior year, Harris was back to her earlier passion working in the campus computer lab. She realized it was where she needed to be. “After graduation, I stayed on to manage the lab and never looked back.”

That decision has certainly benefited Marist. Harris joined the College’s Information Technology (IT) Office as the inaugural Director of Cybersecurity in January.

Harris’s computing career has run the gamut. She worked in the information technology department at the University of Miami Medical School—an experience that allowed her to learn more about how IT relates to medical practice. She also did a stint at a New York City-based start-up before returning to higher education, handling networks, systems, and telecom at Vassar College. She was the Director of Networks and Systems at Vassar for seven years. During that time it became clear to her that the college had greater needs. “I approached the CIO at Vassar and explained that the college needed someone handling information security full-time; he switched me over to cybersecurity in 2015.”

Harris holds the Certified Information Security Systems Professional (CISSP) professional certification and is an active member of multiple professional technology organizations including EDUCAUSE, NYSERNet, and REN-ISAC. Her work at Vassar was evaluated by outside risk assessment firms and was recognized for moving that institution “from an immature to a mature information security program.”

While Harris’s experience at the helm of cybersecurity at a neighboring college certainly made her stand out as a candidate, Marist Chief Information Officer Michael Caputo noted that other key qualities set her apart as well. “Emily built a program at Vassar and, to me, that was important. But, even more significant than that was her rational approach to security issues,” Caputo said. “She does not just see things in black and white; she is careful and thoughtful. That was clear to me and the selection committee as we interviewed her and began to know her. She was the top choice for the role in a field of competitive applicants.”

Caputo conceived of the new security role because “colleges and universities are targets of cybercrime on a daily basis.” He felt strongly that Marist needed a dedicated team managing cybersecurity. “The world has changed,” said Caputo. “Colleges tend to be more open, which creates security issues. We needed an enhanced commitment to keeping the College—our users and our data—safe.”

“The challenge is making sure everyone on campus can do what they need to do while still having security in place,” Harris said. Based on her experience at Vassar, she felt strongly she could repeat that success at Marist.

One of Harris’s first tasks is to develop a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy for the College. She is also examining new tools and processes to put into place. Her regular communications to the Marist community and her Gone Phishing page are already making great strides in increasing awareness of cybersecurity issues. “I like to solve problems,” she said. “And cybersecurity has a lot of interesting problems and a landscape that changes almost daily. It’s not just about what’s going on at the College—it’s beyond us. What’s going on with U.S. politics? International politics? All sorts of larger issues can become relevant.”

Harris is excited to be part of a larger institution and is eager to get to know more members of the Red Fox community. “If anyone has questions about cybersecurity, just call me or email me,” she said. “I’m here to help.”

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