By Karen Kelly
Photos by Bryan Gagnon

It’s not hard to find examples of “insider risk” in the news these days. In Canada, a high-level RCMP official is charged with allegedly preparing to share sensitive information with a foreign entity or terrorist organization. In the United States, Tesla recently thwarted an attempt to introduce malware, through an employee, into the company’s computer system. From ransomware to data theft and espionage, the risk posed by corporate and government insiders is a major concern.

Alex Wilner

Alex Wilner

It’s also the focus of a capstone course on Canadian security issues that Professor Alex Wilner teaches at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs (NPSIA), which has included a collaboration with CIBC.

“I look for partners in the private sector or the federal public service who have a research idea but don’t have the capacity to implement it,” explains Wilner. “CIBC was interested in assessing the challenge of insider threats in Canada, identifying motivating and enabling factors, as well as mitigating factors.”

In January 2021, Wilner’s graduate students began collaborating with CIBC personnel, in particular Lina Tsakiris, the bank’s director of strategic corporate partnerships and corporate security.

At the end of the term, the students were invited to present their findings to CIBC officials and invited guests.

“It was a fantastic opportunity to collaborate on a single project supported by a private sector client,” said Felix Leblanc, a 2021 graduate. “I appreciated being able to bring my economic policy perspective to a more traditional security area, present our findings to the clients, and receive their feedback.”

A Partnership is Born

That initial collaboration sowed the seeds for a greater partnership between CIBC and Wilner. They are currently planning a spring launch of a new academic partnership on insider risk that will focus on the Canadian security landscape.

“In conducting the capstone project, we realized that we needed to establish a baseline understanding of insider risk in Canada,” explains Wilner. “What is the landscape; what is the ecosystem; what are the physical and digital components to all of this; what are the motivations? That baseline will give us an understanding of future research questions on how to respond, and provide impetus for comparative lessons drawn from Canada and other countries.”

NPSIA has already launched a new master’s course on insider risk and mitigation. Wilner plans to hire three research assistants for the project and create opportunities for co-ops and other academic exchanges. There are also plans to launch a website through the Canadian and Security Defense Network (CSDN), which is also housed at NPSIA. In the meantime, graduates of the capstone course are securing jobs in the burgeoning fields of cybersecurity. Many go on to work in the public service, leveraging their capstone experience as a way to boost their resumes.

Pointing to the future, Wilner adds that “our hope and expectation with emerging collaboration is that it will grow into something bigger and broader in the coming years.”

Monday, February 7, 2022 in , ,
Share: Twitter, Facebook