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From cooking and obstacle courses to cybersecurity awareness with Catharine Tarquinio

Catharine Tarquinio, information security awareness and training analyst

Who can whip up a delicious lemon meringue, complete a 21K obstacle course race, and educate individuals on the importance of cybersecurity? That would be Catharine Tarquinio. Tarquinio is the information security awareness and training analyst for the Office of Information Technology’s Information Security Office, and works to ensure there is a strong cybersecurity culture at the university. She discusses her non-traditional trajectory into IT, the significance of cybersecurity, and what she’s passionate about in her free time.

What was your path like getting into information security?
I actually started out in the culinary and hospitality field! While I was working at hotels and as a chef, I realized that a lot of the systems we used were very inefficient and not secure. This drove me to get a second undergraduate degree in computer science and transition into the IT realm. I knew that I wanted to make a difference with technology and how people interface with it.

I was also a lifeguard and swimming instructor for six years. Through these different roles I explored, I realized that the one commonality between jobs was my love of connecting with people. Deep down I have always been interested in education, whether that’s been through showing other line cooks new techniques or teaching people how to swim, and now I get to use these skills every day to educate people on cybersecurity.

How would you describe your role to someone not in the field?
I would say it’s marketing with a twist. I’m essentially marketing cybersecurity as a benefit to an organization and trying to create a “secure” culture with a focus on bringing people closer as a more security-minded group. What I do on a daily basis is promote cybersecurity, not as a checklist item, but as a necessity for everyone in terms of their own personal security and the organization’s security.

What do you think is important for people to know about cybersecurity?
Cybersecurity, at its core, is not trying to prevent you from doing what you need to do. It’s about being proactive and preventative when it comes to your presence online, and this is the best way you can protect yourself. If you’re taking a more reactive stance, it’s going to cost you a lot more down the line.

What would you say is the biggest cybersecurity threat of today?
A huge cybersecurity threat is social engineering. Companies and people are learning more about securing their technology, but people can still be socially engineered into providing passwords and information to those who promise them money or display any sort of urgency. Now, it’s being taken a step further as artificial intelligence can be used to create campaigns on a massive scale, unlike ever before. The cyber threat landscape is constantly changing, and we have to continue educating people on the importance of slowing down and practicing cybersecurity habits every day to change this culture.

What do you like to do in your free time?
I still love to cook and my favorite thing to make currently is lemon meringue tarts. I’m also back in school again and am going for my master’s degree in business analytics at Rutgers–Camden. Another thing about me is that I’m really into personal fitness and am studying to be a personal trainer. My recent fitness fixation has been obstacle course racing, and I completed a Spartan Race not too long ago.

Wow, obstacle course racing! Tell me more about that.
Basically, you run and power hike through a mountainous course with a bunch of obstacles set up along the way that are meant to test different parts of you. My goal for this year was to complete a Spartan Trifecta – a 5K, 10K, and 21K – which I fulfilled after my recent Spartan Race. It was really cool! While I may never do a 21K again, I’m definitely going to continue obstacle racing.

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