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Majors & Degrees

Protecting personal data

June 29, 2020

Dustin Steinhagen is a Ph.D. student, graduate assistant, researcher, mentor, and technologist.

After receiving his undergraduate degree from Cornell University, Steinhagen attended DSU to earn his master’s degree in cyber defense. He is now a doctoral student in the cyber defense program.

His work with Dr. Kevin Streff, his advisor and mentor, earned him Graduate Assistant of the Year. Streff nominated him for his work in research, mentoring students, developing curriculum, and so much more.

“Mr. Steinhagen is a great communicator and teammate,” Streff shared in his nomination. “He is the senior member of my privacy research lab and often mentors new researchers (undergrad and grad) on the team.”

“My favorite part of research is the feeling of discovery,” Steinhagen said. “When you dig into a topic and are getting ready to publish something new on it, you may be the only person in the world who knows that information.”

In addition to conducting research, he teaches courses. He’s even developed the curriculum for two courses in The Beacom College of Computer and Cyber Sciences, a data privacy course and a social engineering course, with Streff.

“He is an expert on personal privacy,” Streff shared.

One of Steinhagen’s main interests is data privacy and the potential for brain hacking. His goal is to help protect people and their private data from hackers and scams. A huge concern for cybersecurity professionals is social engineering, the psychological manipulation of people to get them to do something, such as divulging confidential information, he explained.

“I decided the best way to help address issues in the human exploitation field is getting a degree in cybersecurity,” Steinhagen said.

He wants to help people understand the importance of safeguarding personal data.

“Your personal data is an extension of you,” Steinhagen explained. “When this data is aggregated, stolen, used out of context, or abused in any other way, you can be harmed. Most people think of data breaches or financial consequences in the context of privacy, but privacy violations can also result in psychological damage, a tarnished reputation, or even threats to your life. Anticipating problems isn’t fun, but it’s integral to self-defense in the digital age.”

With regards to social engineering, people need to understand everyone is psychologically vulnerable to being hacked.

“There is a natural tendency to blame victims of phishing attacks, or people who consume and spread poisoned information, or people who fall for multi-level marketing scams,” Steinhagen explained. “Although there are a variety of risk factors, smart, normal, and well-adjusted people can and do fall for these kinds of psychological attacks. Accepting that you are not immune is crucial to avoid being victimized.”

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