Cybersecurity in Agriculture: Larissa Sazama’s Journey to Safeguard Farming – University of Nebraska Omaha

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Larissa Sazama, a senior transportation engineer at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln (UNL), has worked with the civil engineering faculty for several years to ensure the smooth functioning of transportation systems. Her expertise spans across various domains, including engineering, traffic operations, parking, signage, transportation planning, signals, and lighting. However, behind the scenes, Sazama began to question the security of these systems, and developed a deep-seated interest in cybersecurity, particularly concerning the Internet of Things (IoT) devices crucial to these systems.

“In my job, we set up trailers at intersections with cameras and sensors. Even the devices that we use on our trailers lack adequate security,” said Sazama, revealing the spark that led her to pursue a master’s degree in cybersecurity.

Despite the challenge of juggling work with further education, Sazama found herself attracted to the fully online master’s degree cybersecurity program at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO). With a full-time job already keeping her busy, UNO’s flexible program seemed like the perfect fit.

“UNO’s cybersecurity program stood out because of its flexibility, making it possible for me to pursue it,” said Sazama. “If it weren’t for that, attending in-person classes would not have been possible alongside my job.”

With a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering from UNL, Sazama’s deep understanding of information technology and its applications made for a seamless transition and marked the beginning of her journey towards cybersecurity.

Having been born and raised in rural Nebraska, the idea of safeguarding farming communities resonated with her. Collaborating with experts like UNO’s George Grispos, Ph.D., whose focus on agricultural device security aligned perfectly with her interests, Sazama developed a strong understanding of the advancements in farming technology and its vulnerabilities.

“A lot of research indicates that certain devices used by farmers may not be safe. However, it’s uncertain how many farms in the Midwest are using internet-connected technology,” said Sazama. “Many farmers use their cell phones for social media as well as running equipment. For example, they’re checking Facebook with the same device that is managing irrigation systems, which can pose dangers.”

Sazama’s research aims to uncover the complex relationship between technology and cybersecurity awareness among Midwest farmers and food producers. Through rigorous data collection and analysis,

Sazama seeks to learn more about the farming technologies currently being used within the agricultural field, shed light on the level of cybersecurity awareness, and explore the effectiveness of cybersecurity measures employed to prevent risks associated with technological advancements. Sazama’s data will inform her own understanding and provide valuable insights to the broader conversation surrounding cybersecurity in agriculture.

Throughout her time at UNO, Sazama has been supported by dedicated faculty members who have nurtured her research endeavors. Despite primarily engaging with online coursework, UNO’s commitment to fostering a supportive academic environment has played a vital role in her academic growth and success.

“The online library has been a lifesaver for many papers, and because of their agreements with various groups, we are given access to resources we need,” reflected Sazama. “The faculty at UNO have been incredibly accessible. I’ve been amazed with how helpful they are. Even without meeting them in person, they respond to emails almost immediately with advice anytime I’ve needed help.”

Looking ahead, Larissa aspires to contribute to the advancement of cybersecurity practices, particularly in areas vulnerable to cyber threats. She envisions a career dedicated to research, education, and advocacy in cybersecurity to protect the transportation infrastructure and promote safe cyber practices

“My goal is to create a device for households that ensures all connected devices are secure. Something that my parents can take home, set it up, and then all your devices run through that, so it’s a secure household,” said Sazama.

In Larissa Sazama’s story, we see more than just her career path; we see her passionate drive for innovation and security in the agriculture industry. Her journey inspires us, showing how curiosity and hard work can make our digital world safer for everyone.

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