Online studying offers numerous benefits. You get to learn at your own pace (from the comfort of your home), access significantly more resources, and manage your schedule. But that last part isn’t always easy.

When left to your own devices, you might start procrastinating and losing track of time. Then, before you know it, finals are approaching, and you’re nowhere near prepared.

Luckily, we have a solution for this common challenge here at the Open Institute of Technology (OPIT)—or two solutions, to be precise.

One, there are no finals. You’re continually assessed by the incredible faculty, pushing you to engage with the material throughout the course. And two, OPIT’s amazing class coordinator, Sara Ciabattoni, is here to help you overcome specific challenges with procrastination and other issues (e.g., complex and overwhelming tasks).

For this guide, we asked Sara to share her top 10 time management tips. Since time is money, let’s dive in!

1. Reflect on Your Current Time Management Approach

Do you constantly feel overwhelmed and fail to keep up with your tasks? If so, something’s not working. It’s probably time to reassess your approach to time management. And by this, Sara doesn’t just mean your studying time. Instead, she implores you to reflect on how you usually manage time in your everyday life.

Become aware of your time management habits (both good and bad), and a more effective approach to studying is right around the corner.

Let’s say you excel at focusing in the morning but find it difficult to do so in the afternoon. In that case, leave your most demanding study tasks for the morning, aka your peak focus hours. The more time passes, the less complex your tasks should be.

Similarly, if you tend to procrastinate, your goal is to answer a single question – why?

Sometimes, the cause is something silly, such as the so-called FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), which keeps you glued to your screen. In other situations, the cause might be more serious (e.g., an innate fear of failure). Whatever the case, address these underlying issues promptly, as this is the only way to make the most out of your study time.

2. Create a Manageable Routine

No one can do it all at once (And no one should!). So, start by making a list of priorities and turning them into a to-do list. Make seven to-do lists, and you have a manageable weekly schedule that suits your day-to-day life.

If you struggle with prioritizing tasks, you can use the ABC method. Here’s an example to help you visualize this method in practice.

Let’s say you’re pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree (BSc) in Modern Computer Science at OPIT. The elective “Agile Development and DevOps” subject teaches you to implement software projects successfully.

For this subject, an “A” task would be to prepare for a specific real-world scenario developers encounter every day. You’ll experience several of these valuable and time-sensitive scenarios, making them tasks of the highest priority.

For a “B” task, you can practice using Microsoft Azure. This task is important but not as urgent as your “A” task.

Finally, a “C” task can entail working on your negotiation skills to help you convince team members to adopt a specific DevOps methodology. As you can probably guess, “C” tasks are tasks of lower priority, usually because they’re less time-sensitive.

3. Introduce Variety

Sure, this tip doesn’t directly impact your time management. However, it does play a huge role in whether you’ll stick to your studying routine.

If you always study in the same place and in the same way, you’re bound to get bored and lose motivation. So, try mixing things up a little.

For instance, instead of re-reading the course materials over and over again to memorize them, try turning them into a flowchart or a mind map. These handy visual tools can help you grasp concepts differently and make studying more engaging.

4. Take Advantage of All the Available Resources

OPIT prides itself on the wealth of resources available to students, each crafted from scratch. But these resources aren’t only concerned with studying. The OPIT Hub also contains helpful tools you can use to navigate your online studying journey.

One of these resources is a weekly planner designed to turn your priorities into a manageable weekly schedule. Like everything at OPIT, this planner is highly customizable, allowing you to tailor it to your unique needs and preferences.

5. Connect With Others

At OPIT, we also set priorities. One of them is for our students to never feel alone. That’s why we offer an extensive support network to ensure you always have someone to turn to.

So, don’t hesitate to ask for help if you feel stuck or lost. Besides OPIT’s staff, you should connect with your peers and even form online study groups. This will help you keep up with your tasks in a more collaborative and supportive environment. And hey – you might even get to make new friends from all over the world!

6. Don’t Forget About Downtime

Creating a solid schedule isn’t about filling every available moment with a task. Sure, it’s important to get your work done. However, it’s equally crucial to prevent burnout. How can you do this? By including downtime in your schedule.

Of course, you can use your downtime however you see fit. But Sara suggests spending it with your loved ones whenever possible. This will boost your mood and overall well-being, making subsequent studying a breeze. It will also help you achieve the most coveted of all goals – a healthy work-life balance.

But don’t forget – “work” is still a key element of this balance. So, make sure the people in your life also know your schedule (and are willing to respect it).

7. Never Sacrifice Your Basic Needs

Sure, it might seem to you that you’ll get more done if you wake up super early. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. Failing to get enough sleep can only make you less productive, both that day and in the long run.

So, make sure you leave enough time for a good night’s sleep in your schedule. For the best possible results, aim for seven to nine hours.

8. Avoid Jam-Packing Your Schedule

When it comes to estimating how much time you need to allocate for a specific task, remember this – it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Overestimating the time you’ll need for a complex task trumps underestimating every single time. Why? If you underestimate the time you’ll need to complete a task, you’ll feel extremely stressed upon realizing that your deadline is approaching and the work is not yet completed. This will cause you to fall behind on your entire schedule or, even worse, rush through work and compromise its quality.

Overestimating, on the other hand, provides a safety net for unforeseen challenges. Finish the task(s) before the allocated time, and you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment like no other! But it’s OK even if you don’t, as there’s enough time for everything.

Another approach you can take is to break larger tasks into smaller, more manageable chunks. Then, you can allocate a shorter amount of time to each sub-task and feel great when you get it done.

9. Be Kind to Yourself

You can devise the perfect studying plan for the week with enough room for studying, revising, and relaxing. You can even go into the week refreshed, ready to take on any challenge. And yet, it can all fall apart the second that week begins. And that’s OK!

Some days just don’t go as planned. You might receive some bad news or encounter unexpected challenges that disrupt your schedule.

So, be kind to yourself if you’re going through one of these days. Remember that the day will pass just as quickly as it came, and you’ll be back on track in no time.

10. Measure (and Celebrate) Your Progress

How can you tell whether your schedule is truly working? By measuring your progress, of course! Format every task as a SMART goal, and you’ll always know where you stand.

Let’s see what this means using another subject at OPIT – “Web Development.”

  • Specific: “I will learn to create a domain hosting comparison report.”
  • Measurable: “I will create at least three reliable reports.”
  • Attainable: “I have already received the theoretical knowledge necessary for this task.”
  • Relevant: “Creating these reports will enhance my understanding of existing domain host options.”
  • Time-bound: “I will complete the three reports by the end of the week.”

If you succeed in completing these reports by the end of the week, give yourself a little reward. It’s crucial for you to celebrate your progress, no matter how small or big. This is the only way to stay motivated in the long run and maintain a positive mindset throughout your academic journey at OPIT.

There’s No One-Size-Fits-All Solution

When it comes to student support, OPIT emphasizes a personal approach to every student. That’s why it’s crucial to remember that no single time management solution will help all students. After all, each student faces specific challenges, leads a unique lifestyle, and has an individual learning style.

However, as long as you combine Sara’s tips with methods that have proven successful for your specific circumstances (and preferences), you should have no issue excelling at online studying.

 

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Cyber Threat Landscape 2024: Human-Centric Cyber Threats
OPIT - Open Institute of Technology
OPIT - Open Institute of Technology
Apr 17, 2024 9 min read

Human-centric cyber threats have long posed a serious issue for organizations. After all, humans are often the weakest link in the cybersecurity chain. Unfortunately, when artificial intelligence came into the mix, it only made these threats even more dangerous.

So, what can be done about these cyber threats now?

That’s precisely what we asked Tom Vazdar, the chair of the Enterprise Cybersecurity Master’s program at the Open Institute of Technology (OPIT), and Venicia Solomons, aka the “Cyber Queen.”

They dedicated a significant portion of their “Cyber Threat Landscape 2024: Navigating New Risks” master class to AI-powered human-centric cyber threats. So, let’s see what these two experts have to say on the topic.

Human-Centric Cyber Threats 101

Before exploring how AI impacted human-centric cyber threats, let’s go back to the basics. What are human-centric cyber threats?

As you might conclude from the name, human-centric cyber threats are cybersecurity risks that exploit human behavior or vulnerabilities (e.g., fear). Even if you haven’t heard of the term “human-centric cyber threats,” you’ve probably heard of (or even experienced) the threats themselves.

The most common of these threats are phishing attacks, which rely on deceptive emails to trick users into revealing confidential information (or clicking on malicious links). The result? Stolen credentials, ransomware infections, and general IT chaos.

How Has AI Impacted Human-Centric Cyber Threats?

AI has infiltrated virtually every cybersecurity sector. Social engineering is no different.

As mentioned, AI has made human-centric cyber threats substantially more dangerous. How? By making them difficult to spot.

In Venicia’s words, AI has allowed “a more personalized and convincing social engineering attack.”

In terms of email phishing, malicious actors use AI to write “beautifully crafted emails,” as Tom puts it. These emails contain no grammatical errors and can mimic the sender’s writing style, making them appear more legitimate and harder to identify as fraudulent.

These highly targeted AI-powered phishing emails are no longer considered “regular” phishing attacks but spear phishing emails, which are significantly more likely to fool their targets.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there.

As AI technology advances, its capabilities go far beyond crafting a simple email. Venicia warns that AI-powered voice technology can even create convincing voice messages or phone calls that sound exactly like a trusted individual, such as a colleague, supervisor, or even the CEO of the company. Obey the instructions from these phone calls, and you’ll likely put your organization in harm’s way.

How to Counter AI-Powered Human-Centric Cyber Threats

Given how advanced human-centric cyber threats have gotten, one logical question arises – how can organizations counter them? Luckily, there are several ways to do this. Some rely on technology to detect and mitigate threats. However, most of them strive to correct what caused the issue in the first place – human behavior.

Enhancing Email Security Measures

The first step in countering the most common human-centric cyber threats is a given for everyone, from individuals to organizations. You must enhance your email security measures.

Tom provides a brief overview of how you can do this.

No. 1 – you need a reliable filtering solution. For Gmail users, there’s already one such solution in place.

No. 2 – organizations should take full advantage of phishing filters. Before, only spam filters existed, so this is a major upgrade in email security.

And No. 3 – you should consider implementing DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance) to prevent email spoofing and phishing attacks.

Keeping Up With System Updates

Another “technical” move you can make to counter AI-powered human-centric cyber threats is to ensure all your systems are regularly updated. Fail to keep up with software updates and patches, and you’re looking at a strong possibility of facing zero-day attacks. Zero-day attacks are particularly dangerous because they exploit vulnerabilities that are unknown to the software vendor, making them difficult to defend against.

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Nurturing a Culture of Skepticism

The key component of the human-centric cyber threats is, in fact, humans. That’s why they should also be the key component in countering these threats.

At an organizational level, numerous steps are needed to minimize the risks of employees falling for these threats. But it all starts with what Tom refers to as a “culture of skepticism.”

Employees should constantly be suspicious of any unsolicited emails, messages, or requests for sensitive information.

They should always ask themselves – who is sending this, and why are they doing so?

This is especially important if the correspondence comes from a seemingly trusted source. As Tom puts it, “Don’t click immediately on a link that somebody sent you because you are familiar with the name.” He labels this as the “Rule No. 1” of cybersecurity awareness.

Growing the Cybersecurity Culture

The ultra-specific culture of skepticism will help create a more security-conscious workforce. But it’s far from enough to make a fundamental change in how employees perceive (and respond to) threats. For that, you need a strong cybersecurity culture.

Tom links this culture to the corporate culture. The organization’s mission, vision, statement of purpose, and values that shape the corporate culture should also be applicable to cybersecurity. Of course, this isn’t something companies can do overnight. They must grow and nurture this culture if they are to see any meaningful results.

According to Tom, it will probably take at least 18 months before these results start to show.

During this time, organizations must work on strengthening the relationships between every department, focusing on the human resources and security sectors. These two sectors should be the ones to primarily grow the cybersecurity culture within the company, as they’re well versed in the two pillars of this culture – human behavior and cybersecurity.

However, this strong interdepartmental relationship is important for another reason.

As Tom puts it, “[As humans], we cannot do anything by ourselves. But as a collective, with the help within the organization, we can.”

Staying Educated

The world of AI and cybersecurity have one thing in common – they never sleep. The only way to keep up with these ever-evolving worlds is to stay educated.

The best practice would be to gain a solid base by completing a comprehensive program, such as OPIT’s Enterprise Cybersecurity Master’s program. Then, it’s all about continuously learning about new developments, trends, and threats in AI and cybersecurity.

Conducting Regular Training

For most people, it’s not enough to just explain how human-centric cyber threats work. They must see them in action. Especially since many people believe that phishing attacks won’t happen to them or, if they do, they simply won’t fall for them. Unfortunately, neither of these are true.

Approximately 3.4 billion phishing emails are sent each day, and millions of them successfully bypass all email authentication methods. With such high figures, developing critical thinking among the employees is the No. 1 priority. After all, humans are the first line of defense against cyber threats.

But humans must be properly trained to counter these cyber threats. This training includes the organization’s security department sending fake phishing emails to employees to test their vigilance. Venicia calls employees who fall for these emails “clickers” and adds that no one wants to be a clicker. So, they do everything in their power to avoid falling for similar attacks in the future.

However, the key to successful employee training in this area also involves avoiding sending similar fake emails. If the company keeps trying to trick the employees in the same way, they’ll likely become desensitized and less likely to take real threats seriously.

So, Tom proposes including gamification in the training. This way, the training can be more engaging and interactive, encouraging employees to actively participate and learn. Interestingly, AI can be a powerful ally here, helping create realistic scenarios and personalized learning experiences based on employee responses.

Following in the Competitors’ Footsteps

When it comes to cybersecurity, it’s crucial to be proactive rather than reactive. Even if an organization hasn’t had issues with cyberattacks, it doesn’t mean it will stay this way. So, the best course of action is to monitor what competitors are doing in this field.

However, organizations shouldn’t stop with their competitors. They should also study other real-world social engineering incidents that might give them valuable insights into the tactics used by the malicious actors.

Tom advises visiting the many open-source databases reporting on these incidents and using the data to build an internal educational program. This gives organizations a chance to learn from other people’s mistakes and potentially prevent those mistakes from happening within their ecosystem.

Stay Vigilant

It’s perfectly natural for humans to feel curiosity when it comes to new information, anxiety regarding urgent-looking emails, and trust when seeing a familiar name pop up on the screen. But in the world of cybersecurity, these basic human emotions can cause a lot of trouble. That is, at least, when humans act on them.

So, organizations must work on correcting human behaviors, not suppressing basic human emotions. By doing so, they can help employees develop a more critical mindset when interacting with digital communications. The result? A cyber-aware workforce that’s well-equipped to recognize and respond to phishing attacks and other cyber threats appropriately.

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Cyber Threat Landscape 2024: The AI Revolution in Cybersecurity
OPIT - Open Institute of Technology
OPIT - Open Institute of Technology
Apr 17, 2024 9 min read

There’s no doubt about it – artificial intelligence has revolutionized almost every aspect of modern life. Healthcare, finance, and manufacturing are just some of the sectors that have been virtually turned upside down by this powerful new force. Cybersecurity also ranks high on this list.

But as much as AI can benefit cybersecurity, it also presents new challenges. Or – to be more direct –new threats.

To understand just how serious these threats are, we’ve enlisted the help of two prominent figures in the cybersecurity world – Tom Vazdar and Venicia Solomons. Tom is the chair of the Master’s Degree in Enterprise Cybersecurity program at the Open Institute of Technology (OPIT). Venicia, better known as the “Cyber Queen,” runs a widely successful cybersecurity community looking to empower women to succeed in the industry.

Together, they held a master class titled “Cyber Threat Landscape 2024: Navigating New Risks.” In this article, you get the chance to hear all about the double-edged sword that is AI in cybersecurity.

How Can Organizations Benefit From Using AI in Cybersecurity?

As with any new invention, AI has primarily been developed to benefit people. In the case of AI, this mainly refers to enhancing efficiency, accuracy, and automation in tasks that would be challenging or impossible for people to perform alone.

However, as AI technology evolves, its potential for both positive and negative impacts becomes more apparent.

But just because the ugly side of AI has started to rear its head more dramatically, it doesn’t mean we should abandon the technology altogether. The key, according to Venicia, is in finding a balance. And according to Tom, this balance lies in treating AI the same way you would cybersecurity in general.

Keep reading to learn what this means.

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Implement a Governance Framework

In cybersecurity, there is a governance framework called ISO/IEC 27000, whose goal is to provide a systematic approach to managing sensitive company information, ensuring it remains secure. A similar framework has recently been created for AI— ISO/IEC 42001.

Now, the trouble lies in the fact that many organizations “don’t even have cybersecurity, not to speak artificial intelligence,” as Tom puts it. But the truth is that they need both if they want to have a chance at managing the risks and complexities associated with AI technology, thus only reaping its benefits.

Implement an Oversight Mechanism

Fearing the risks of AI in cybersecurity, many organizations chose to forbid the usage of this technology outright within their operations. But by doing so, they also miss out on the significant benefits AI can offer in enhancing cybersecurity defenses.

So, an all-out ban on AI isn’t a solution. A well-thought-out oversight mechanism is.

According to Tom, this control framework should dictate how and when an organization uses cybersecurity and AI and when these two fields are to come in contact. It should also answer the questions of how an organization governs AI and ensures transparency.

With both of these frameworks (governance and oversight), it’s not enough to simply implement new mechanisms. Employees should also be educated and regularly trained to uphold the principles outlined in these frameworks.

Control the AI (Not the Other Way Around!)

When it comes to relying on AI, one principle should be every organization’s guiding light. Control the AI; don’t let the AI control you.

Of course, this includes controlling how the company’s employees use AI when interacting with client data, business secrets, and other sensitive information.

Now, the thing is – people don’t like to be controlled.

But without control, things can go off the rails pretty quickly.

Tom gives just one example of this. In 2022, an improperly trained (and controlled) chatbot gave an Air Canada customer inaccurate information and a non-existing discount. As a result, the customer bought a full-price ticket. A lawsuit ensued, and in 2024, the court ruled in the customer’s favor, ordering Air Canada to pay compensation.

This case alone illustrates one thing perfectly – you must have your AI systems under control. Tom hypothesizes that the system was probably affordable and easy to implement, but it eventually cost Air Canada dearly in terms of financial and reputational damage.

How Can Organizations Protect Themselves Against AI-Driven Cyberthreats?

With well-thought-out measures in place, organizations can reap the full benefits of AI in cybersecurity without worrying about the threats. But this doesn’t make the threats disappear. Even worse, these threats are only going to get better at outsmarting the organization’s defenses.

So, what can the organizations do about these threats?

Here’s what Tom and Venicia suggest.

Fight Fire With Fire

So, AI is potentially attacking your organization’s security systems? If so, use AI to defend them. Implement your own AI-enhanced threat detection systems.

But beware – this isn’t a one-and-done solution. Tom emphasizes the importance of staying current with the latest cybersecurity threats. More importantly – make sure your systems are up to date with them.

Also, never rely on a single control system. According to our experts, “layered security measures” are the way to go.

Never Stop Learning (and Training)

When it comes to AI in cybersecurity, continuous learning and training are of utmost importance – learning for your employees and training for the AI models. It’s the only way to ensure all system aspects function properly and your employees know how to use each and every one of them.

This approach should also alleviate one of the biggest concerns regarding an increasing AI implementation. Namely, employees fear that they will lose their jobs due to AI. But the truth is, the AI systems need them just as much as they need those systems.

As Tom puts it, “You need to train the AI system so it can protect you.”

That’s why studying to be a cybersecurity professional is a smart career move.

However, you’ll want to find a program that understands the importance of AI in cybersecurity and equips you to handle it properly. Get a master’s degree in Enterprise Security from OPIT, and that’s exactly what you’ll get.

Join the Bigger Fight

When it comes to cybersecurity, transparency is key. If organizations fail to report cybersecurity incidents promptly and accurately, they not only jeopardize their own security but also that of other organizations and individuals. Transparency builds trust and allows for collaboration in addressing cybersecurity threats collectively.

So, our experts urge you to engage in information sharing and collaborative efforts with other organizations, industry groups, and governmental bodies to stay ahead of threats.

How Has AI Impacted Data Protection and Privacy?

Among the challenges presented by AI, one stands out the most – the potential impact on data privacy and protection. Why? Because there’s a growing fear that personal data might be used to train large AI models.

That’s why European policymakers sprang into action and introduced the Artificial Intelligence Act in March 2024.

This regulation, implemented by the European Parliament, aims to protect fundamental rights, democracy, the rule of law, and environmental sustainability from high-risk AI. The act is akin to the well-known General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) passed in 2016 but exclusively targets the use of AI. The good news for those fearful of AI’s potential negative impact is that every requirement imposed by this act is backed up with heavy penalties.

But how can organizations ensure customers, clients, and partners that their data is fully protected?

According to our experts, the answer is simple – transparency, transparency, and some more transparency!

Any employed AI system must be designed in a way that doesn’t jeopardize anyone’s privacy and freedom. However, it’s not enough to just design the system in such a way. You must also ensure all the stakeholders understand this design and the system’s operation. This includes providing clear information about the data being collected, how it’s being used, and the measures in place to protect it.

Beyond their immediate group of stakeholders, organizations also must ensure that their data isn’t manipulated or used against people. Tom gives an example of what must be avoided at all costs. Let’s say a client applies for a loan in a financial institution. Under no circumstances should that institution use AI to track the client’s personal data and use it against them, resulting in a loan ban. This hypothetical scenario is a clear violation of privacy and trust.

And according to Tom, “privacy is more important than ever.” The same goes for internal ethical standards organizations must develop.

Keeping Up With Cybersecurity

Like most revolutions, AI has come in fast and left many people (and organizations) scrambling to keep up. However, those who recognize that AI isn’t going anywhere have taken steps to embrace it and fully benefit from it. They see AI for what it truly is – a fundamental shift in how we approach technology and cybersecurity.

Those individuals have also chosen to advance their knowledge in the field by completing highly specialized and comprehensive programs like OPIT’s Enterprise Cybersecurity Master’s program. Coincidentally, this is also the program where you get to hear more valuable insights from Tom Vazdar, as he has essentially developed this course.

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