Research & Innovation

CEOs Need to Be Involved in Cybersecurity Defense, Warns Stevens Data Analytics Researcher

Network Protection is ‘a Bottom-Line Issue’ That Extends Well Beyond Information Technology Department

Every executive will tell you that cybersecurity is an important consideration in a business world increasingly dominated by data. But few of them consider defense of their networks to be part of their jobs. 

Dr. Mahmoud Daneshmand, an industry professor at the School of Business at Stevens, is working to change that idea — just as he has since 1995, when he was part of a team at Bell Labs that pitched a $30 million data analytics research lab to better leverage and understand the company’s data. 

Mahmoud Daneshmand
Dr. Mahmoud Daneshmand is a pioneer in researching the Internet of Things.

The team got its funding when executives realized such a lab could put a dent in the $200 million a year it lost to fraudulent callers. The team’s accomplishments created a direct benefit to the bottom line of Bell Labs and AT&T, in addition to signaling the future value of data’s applications in industry. But it took time for the executives to understand the way the scientists and engineers saw the opportunity.

“The culture is changing, but slowly,” Dr. Daneshmand said. “The core function of a CEO is to grow the company and improve performance — they consider cyberattacks to be an issue for their technicians. But cybercrime is a bottom-line issue, because attacks on the network directly endanger a company’s ability to grow and function.”

Dr. Daneshmand will deliver a keynote address at the IT Connect 2016 conference, billed as the largest technology conference in New Jersey, on Sept. 9. His talk will focus on getting decision-makers — whether the heads of multinational corporations or the drivers behind entrepreneurial startups — to directly engage their IT departments to better understand the threat cybercriminals pose. It’s an area where the business world has been slow to adapt — according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers study, 90 percent of companies have been targeted, and each successful attack costs £3 million on average — nearly $4 million. A separate survey found 77 percent of managers say their companies are unprepared for attacks.

“Cybercrime is a bottom-line issue, because attacks on the network directly endanger a company's ability to grow and function.”

Dr. Mahmoud Daneshmand, industry professor

“It’s a huge challenge,” Dr. Daneshmand said, likening it to identifying a lone terrorist from tens of thousands of passengers at a busy airport. “But you have the capability, through smart analysis of the data, to separate customers from cybercriminals, and in real time. It doesn’t help me if I find out tomorrow that the network was under attack today.” 

The answer to that challenge is getting more corporate leaders to involve themselves in discussions about cybersecurity, much as they might in issues of marketing, finance or strategy. At Stevens, the School of Business specializes in education and research that emphasizes the role of data and analytics in decision-making, helping managers ask smarter questions, create evidence-based strategies and accelerate growth. Technology-centric master’s programs like Business Intelligence & Analytics show students how to manipulate massive data sets to derive useful information, but management degrees like the MBA teach aspiring managers to harness data in setting and achieving strategic goals. 

At Stevens, Dr. Daneshmand is a highly visible face for the role of data in business intelligence. He is a leading researcher of the Internet of Things (IoT), which governs how connected devices communicate to provide real-time data and look for deviations from established patterns — useful in detecting intruders or cybercriminals. He co-founded the IEEE Internet of Things Journal and is chair of its steering committee; submissions to the journal have increased dramatically since its founding, and it has been selected by Thomson Reuters for coverage in the Science Citation Index Expanded. 

IoT is still in its infancy, but its value as a tool to battle cyberattacks means leaders in the C-suite need to be asking their IT departments the right questions now, he said. 

“The threat has to be addressed not just by technicians, but by the head of the company, because they are in charge of performance and bottom line — and cybercrime can totally destroy their company,” Dr. Daneshmand said.