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Itara Uma Sumeros: Inside the Psychology of Cybersecurity

Itara Uma Sumeros

Itara Uma Sumeros

Itara Uma Sumeros has always been curious. The child of a professor and a research assistant, she could be found in the lab instead of on the playground, devising games with litmus paper and pipettes.

“I love to share information, and I like to learn,” Sumeros says. “And I have always had a problem with ignorance. I don't mind a person not knowing something; I have a problem with them not wanting to know something.”

This curiosity has fueled an extensive and expansive career across industries — working in a criminal law office in New York, as a business marketer in Greece, and a web media director in New Orleans. Now Sumeros is earning her Online Master of Professional Studies (MPS) in Cybersecurity Management at the Tulane University School of Professional Advancement (SoPA).

At the root of her wide-ranging career lies a desire to understand what motivates people and drives their behavior — whether they’re weeping in response to an advertisement or deciding to hack into a computer network.

Sumeros prefers to dash headlong into the future. “I’ve been running my entire life,” she says. “My dad used to say, ‘Slow down, slow down,’ but I've always felt this urgency to get stuff done. I’ve always felt like I’m running out of time. So let’s get cracking.”

A Career in Curiosity

Growing up in Chicago, Sumeros studied to be a classical pianist, but it wasn’t meant to be. After moving to New York, Sumeros discovered her passion for art. “My mother wasn’t really thrilled about that,” she says, “so I compromised by becoming a commercial artist. That’s how I got into advertising.”

Early in her career, Sumeros worked as a typographer, creating layouts and designs for big companies like Estée Lauder. She then moved through other departments at the agency — copywriting, art direction, public relations, research and development — learning everything she could about market research and the psychology behind advertising.

Wanting to be more involved in world issues, Sumeros took law courses and landed a job working for a criminal law firm in New York. Still, she had reservations.

“We were working on a case in which the person admitted they’d committed a crime, and attorneys made it possible for them to walk free,” Sumeros says. “That was the point where I said, ‘I cannot do this.’ Because I felt that it was just wrong.”
She went on to work for an international law firm, moving up in the ranks to become the IT training director, until a national tragedy stopped her in her tracks.

“I was on my way to work on September 11th,” she says. “I lived in Brooklyn, directly across from Manhattan. As I made my way to work, I could see the World Trade Center from across the Hudson River. I saw the first plane hit.”

To heal from this trauma, Sumeros moved to Greece for five years to live with her godfather. There, she returned to her marketing roots, earning her master’s in international business marketing and working for local companies.

“I helped to launch the first hotel accommodations website in Greece,” she says. “When I first met them, their whole site was in Greek. I worked with them to get the translation done, incorporate graphics, and make it more user friendly. Today they’re successful and still going strong.”

Digitizing New Orleans Businesses

Sumeros relocated to New Orleans in 2007 to aid in recovery efforts after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city. She launched a conference to help businesses build online presences. “From 2009 to 2015, I was like the poster girl for internet technology here,” Sumeros says.

Her company, Suneva Webcasting, also began offering mobile web development services. This expanded her role as web media director, using information technology to design websites and security solutions for businesses.

Still, Sumeros knew she had more to learn about web development. In 2015, she enrolled at Tulane University and earned her Bachelor of Science in Applied Computing systems and Technology. “I wanted to understand the back end of the business, and the mechanics of how this all works beyond HTML, CSS, and Java,” Sumeros says. “I’d been self-taught, so I’d figured a lot of it out on my own, but that’s not the same as learning in a structured manner.”

Sumeros developed a strong interest in cybersecurity after a tutorial website she developed was hacked. “When I first brought the company online, there was no discussion about cybersecurity at all,” she says. “I think people thought security was inherent because it was electronic.”

She led an independent study to answer one big question: Is there a way to make a computer inherently secure? “I believed there was a way for security to kick in at the moment you press the power button, before the OS even appears,” she says. “So I did the study, and I proved it could be done.”

The Emerging Study of Cyberpsychology

Sumeros is currently pursuing her Online MPS in Cybersecurity Management at Tulane University SoPA. In addition to learning how people hack into computer systems, she is conducting her own research to learn why and how to reduce the risk.

“Yes, let’s find the hackers, but let’s also understand what makes them do what they do and train people to not make it so easy for them,” Sumeros says. “What causes people to become cyberbullies? What causes people to stalk online? And how can we help people become the strongest link in cybersecurity?”

She believes this research is crucial to her work as the company expands to offer cybersecurity management subscriptions through their IC Defence division. “Small businesses have become hackers’ preferred targets because they don’t have the IT resources of large companies,” says Sumeros. “According to Hiscox, Inc., small businesses lost an average of $35,000 in 2018.”

“I’m the person who develops your website with built-in security,” Sumeros says. “In order to do that, I have to understand what hackers are looking for. How can they get into my client’s site? You have to organize their security defense against cyberattacks with training, hardware, and software.”

Sumeros hopes to continue this research during her PhD studies and eventually teach in the emerging field of cyberpsychology, impacting how future generations — including her new great-grandson — use technology.

“The same way we have become used to locking our car and locking our door, we have to get comfortable with securing our computer behavior and devices,” she says. “Looking at this new person, this great-grandchild, just makes it much more urgent for me.”

Advance Your Career in Cybersecurity

Tulane University SoPA’s Online MPS in Cybersecurity Management program prepares working professionals to address real-world challenges in information technology, such as identifying security threats and using risk modeling to develop innovative solutions. Students learn from industry professionals to develop the knowledge, leadership skills, and strategic tools they need to advance their careers in this growing field.

Learn more about how Tulane’s Online MPS in Cybersecurity Management can help you pursue your career goals.

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