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Cyber education: evolving tools for evolving threats

Having grown up in a close-knit Northern Virginia family, Baback Bazri (BIT ’04) had no doubt that he would attend an in-state college.

Choosing Virginia Tech was easy. The deal was sealed during a campus visit on a beautiful fall weekend. “I could feel the energy on campus, and all the facilities were top-notch,” said Bazri.

“No challenge or day is the same as the last in this fast-paced industry.”
—Baback Bazri

But the road to Pamplin was not quite as straightforward.

“I was actually accepted into the College of Engineering, but after a few semesters, I knew engineering was not for me,” said Bazri.

He had always been interested in technology and how information systems interconnected with one another to solve real-world problems. “Once I switched to Pamplin and started taking core courses and business information technology classes, it all clicked for me,” he said.

Prioritizing cybersecurity

Bazri, a partner in the government and public sector advisory services practice at Ernst & Young LLP, located in McLean, Virginia, has served a wide array of federal government agencies as well as Fortune 500 organizations in financial services, professional services, retail, telecommunications, and wholesale distribution.

One of the most important things Bazri says he learned as a student is how to work on teams and bring diverse sets of people together to solve problems. (Photo credit: Mike Guirguis/EY)

He has led cyber security and information assurance engagements both in program management and technical disciplines, as well as cyber strategy, cyber risk management, audit readiness, and financial statement audit. He is a Certified Information Systems Security Professional and Certified Information Systems Auditor.

At the start of his career 15 years ago, Bazri said that businesses were focused on protecting the vast array of what were primarily legacy systems. “Today, the ‘internet of things’ and other smart devices inundate the workplace and our personal lives, driving concerns about cybersecurity right to the top of business agendas,” he said.

While he said it is generally best to prioritize cyber spending and controls around highest value assets, there are no cookie cutter answers to many cyber security concerns.

“No challenge or day is the same as the last in this fast-paced industry. I wake up every morning thinking about client service and what innovative solutions can help solve my client’s most complex problems,” Bazri said.

Diverse approaches

Throughout his career, Bazri said, he has had many mentors, coaches, and sponsors who have helped him achieve his professional goals. “This has made me passionate about paying forward to younger professionals.”

The help he received from many mentors, coaches, and sponsors has made Bazri “passionate about paying forward to younger professionals.” (Photo credit: Mike Guirguis/EY)

Bazri said he is also committed to giving back to Pamplin for the essential role the college has played in his success.

One of the most important things he learned as a student was how to work on teams and bring diverse sets of people together to solve problems. “Having challenging discussions and healthy conflict to ultimately achieve the best outcome for the problem you are trying to solve was not only a good model for class projects, but has been applicable to my career,” said Bazri.

And advice from one of his former management professors, Christopher Neck — to be goal-oriented and continually challenge yourself — guides him to this day.

To this guidance, Bazri has added some recommendations of his own for Pamplin students and recent graduates entering the cybersecurity field: “Your passion for learning needs to continue after you leave Pamplin. Digital technologies are evolving rapidly as are cybersecurity threats, so you have to invest in your career, and stay current with trends in the marketplace. What you learn at Pamplin gives you all of the tools you need to succeed, but staying current in your field, being open to new experiences, and being flexible and agile in the workplace are key to sustaining success as you challenge yourself to take on new opportunities.”

Bazri has served on Pamplin’s business information technology advisory board since 2017. “Being on the board provides unique insight into big changes taking place for the university, Pamplin, and the department, so any little part I can do in shaping the future of the university is both exciting and humbling at the same time,” he said.

Also committed to public service, he is a member of the audit committee of Child Care Aware of America, a national, nonprofit organization working to advance child care affordability and accessibility, and the development and learning of children in child care. He has provided financial planning seminars to underserved youth in the Northern Virginia area.

Bazri spends most of his leisure time with his wife, Lauren, and their two daughters, Roya, 4, and Tala, 1, whom he enjoys chauffeuring to their various activities.

He is “a huge sports fan of the Hokies and all Washington, D.C., sports teams.” Last year, he took Roya on a daddy/daughter weekend to her first Hokie football game. “We are planning to make it a tradition and will be heading down for another game this fall,” Bazri said.

– Barbara Micale