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Emlyn Butterfield, Course Leader in Computer Forensics, Leeds Metropolitan University
As course leader it is my responsibility to maintain a healthy set of courses. By healthy I mean happy students, staff, good student intakes each year and courses that are fit for purpose. I, along with my team, try to ensure that the courses are designed and refreshed in line with industry: to allow us to do this we utilise industry experts as advisors, providing ideas and critical feedback on the teaching material, assessments and methods – through this we try to ensure that students receive a varied and relevant learning experience.
I entered academia in 2010 as a senior lecturer, following a good number of years in digital forensics – working as a senior analyst and forensic manager for a number of excellent organisations. Through these roles I came into contact with many graduates and was generally disheartened at the large number of them who had clearly gone through University but had limited practical experience, or in some cases theoretical knowledge, of the role they were applying for. I did come across a number of excellent graduates, some of whom I had the pleasure to work with. This and a change in personal circumstances led to a movement into academia where I felt I could use my experience of forensics, management, and training to help mold future experts.
How did you become interested in computer security as a subject area?
Forensics and security are two very similar fields, with similar skills needed for both roles, you need to understand how a physical device or a piece of software works to be able to analyse it fully or to protect its content. It was therefore a natural progression to teach forensics and security. There is a clear expansion of security in everyday news and the advances in technology just make this an ever changing field. I am a man who enjoys breaking things, putting that skill in a digital environment is great for me.
You teach Ethical Hacking, a topic fraught with debate, particularly surrounding how we define ethics in the digital realm. What do you think are the main challenges of working in this field?
“Ethical hacking” is an oxymoron: penetration testing or security assessment are probably more PC terms to use. You think of an ethical hacker as a good guy who is breaking into a system to help a company; this is now a fully-fledged area of business with standards and accrediting authorities that provide confidence in the abilities and suitability of individuals/organisation. I think the main challenge is understanding, and making others understand (in particular clients) what is possible and what is legal to complete; as with most digital areas people assume anything is possible and there is a detachment in the digital world – activities seen as illegal physically such as theft, suddenly become greyer when it is digitised. Another major challenge is legacy systems, again a human element, but ensuring people progress technology (physical and digital) to allow the security teams to have the best fighting chance at protecting the data.
Your paper ‘Virtual EQ – The Talent Differentiator In 2020?’ discusses whether employers need to consider Virtual EQ when screening new employees. Could you give us a brief overview of what Virtual EQ entails, and the findings of your research?
Virtual EQ, or Virtual Emotional Intelligence, is research into the changes and the use of emotions in a virtual environment. The research was focused towards the business world and looking at employees of the future, in particular the effect technology may have on them and their ability to interact with others across multiple platforms. My area was looking at how technology affects emotional intelligence. It is believed that the use of technology makes people less sensitive to the needs of others, allowing people to use social media and technology to perform actions that would traditionally be done face-to-face. This allows an emotional detachment from the activity meaning that things such as ending a relationship could be done with relative ease; the research suggests that the future workforce has many challenges in particular the interactivity with humans on physical basis – “de-friending a colleague is not an option”
You’re also involved in Code Club, which holds after-school coding classes for children. Why are initiatives like this important, and what do you think are the main challenges for computer science education today?
Technology is not going away; it is becoming more and more ingrained in everyday life. It is therefore important to ensure that the workers of tomorrow (the future geniuses) are engaged with the subject, enthusiastically, as soon as possible so that they can begin developing ideas and pushing boundaries. Initiatives such as Code Club and the new changes to the computing curriculum should mean we have some exciting things to come in future years.
What do you think the next major developments will be in computer security?
I think the next advances will centre around cyber warfare, this is a massive area that includes anything from data obfuscation through to cyber-attacks.
What do you do in your spare time?
Look after my children, tinker with computers/devices, work on my PhD, read.