SciTech Now Episode 531

In this episode of SciTech Now, fighting cybercrimes (WorkingNation), an anticancer mouthwash and redesigning the spinal tap.


Coming up, fighting cybercrimes...

Most organizations are not asking if they will be the target of a data breach but when. anti-cancer mouthwash...

These studies use thymol, which are derived from plants such as thyme and oregano.

...redesigning the spinal tap.

It becomes increasingly important to be able to do this procedure once and get it on the first try as opposed to trying it multiple times.

It's all ahead.

Hello. I'm Hari Sreenivasan.

Welcome to our weekly program bringing you the latest breakthroughs in science, technology, and innovation.

Let's get started.

Cybercrime is one of the world's fastest-growing threats, and there's a lack of trained professionals in companies who can defend and protect against it.

2/3 of organizations do not have a formal strategy to battle cybercrimes.

Working Nation presents a town-hall discussion with experts from the education, government, and corporate sectors all coming together to discuss training and matching the skills of workers for the cybersecurity jobs available.

Take a look.

Most organizations are not asking if they will be the target of a data breach but when.

The Ponemon Institute puts the odds of experiencing a data breach as high as 1 in 4, and the White House Council of Economic Advisers estimates that malicious cyber activity costs the U.S. economy between $57 and $109 billion in 2016.

That's a staggering number, yet there is a gaping disconnect in the workforce armed with the skills to address these cybersecurity threats.

By one estimate, there will be a global shortage of as many as 2 million cybersecurity professionals by 2019.

I want to kick off our discussion by taking a look at just how big the cybersecurity threat is to business, the government, and individuals, as well, and we don't have to look any further than this campus to find one of the best and brightest minds in the field.

Ari Juels is a professor here at the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute.

He is also co-director of the Initiative for Cryptocurrencies and Contracts.

Previously, he was the chief scientist for the network security company RSA.

Ari, if you would, offer us your assessment of where we are with respect to this cybersecurity threat, both here and abroad.

I'd like to talk in particular about cybersecurity education, which is obviously going to be critical in filling in the skills gap.

Picture, if you will, as in the movies, a room filled with monitors, sophisticated graphics, maps and so on and so forth and cybersecurity experts beavering away trying to uncover hackers and so on and so forth.

This is the sort of cinematic picture we have of what goes on in a security operations center.

The reality, though, as you can imagine, is somewhat different.

At RSA and many other companies, there is indeed a room bedecked with monitors with sophisticated graphics and so on and so forth, but, often, it's just for show.

RSA, for instance, they would bring visitors to this room.

What are the security operations professionals, in fact, doing?

Often, they're using rather crude sort of command line, which is to say text-only, tools, processing alerts generated by intrusion-detection systems, triaging them, and doing work that's not as romantic as the movies would have you believe, essentially doing work that is largely mechanistic.

They are professionals with deep expertise.

Often, that expertise is focused on a particular set of tools and technologies, and, of course, many of them have extremely broad knowledge and familiarity with different threat actors, with the sophisticated tactics of hackers and so and so forth.

And that goes from state-sponsored actors to corporate criminals to all the way down to just individual bad actors who are looking to play with the system, if you will, for either fun or profit, correct?

Yes, indeed.


Anyone trying to breach a network is their adversary.

When we talk about the cybersecurity skills gap, what we often mean is an inability to fill rooms with people who have precisely this expertise, but I would argue that we need to think a little bit more holistically about the cybersecurity skills gap, that it's not just about educating cybersecurity professionals but educating professionals, and I use the term writ large, in cybersecurity.

I want cybersecurity expertise not just in the people securing my network but in the people designing autonomous vehicles, building banking systems, building systems like implanted medical devices that are life-critical.

All of which are presumably hackable in some way or another, right?

And all these things are hackable.

When we talk about cyber physical devices like automobiles and implanted medical devices, the implications of hacking, of course, can be fatal.

As companies struggle to fill cybersecurity jobs, the other part of the equation that's puzzling is the fact that these jobs, for the most part, pay quite well.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the median pay for an information security analyst at roughly $95,000 a year for someone with a bachelor's degree and less than 5 years of experience in a related field, so why are many jobs unfilled, and where exactly are the jobs that need to, in fact, be filled?

Joining us now to answer the question is Will Markow.

He is manager of client strategy and analytics at Burning Glass Technologies.

Burning Glass is a labor market analytics firm, and, Will, welcome, thanks for joining us today.

It's my pleasure to be here today.

So, cybersecurity is unique for a number of reasons.

It has one of the largest talent shortages if we just look at the supply relative to demand in the market.

The employed cybersecurity workforce, it would have to more than double overnight just to have a supply-and-demand ratio that is in line with the market average, and we're already in a tight market, so cybersecurity is suffering from one of the most crippling talent shortages in the market, and what makes it unique is that it's probably going to get a lot worse.

Now, why does this gap exist?

I mean, so we've heard now, and I have Gen Z kids.

All we hear about is STEM education.

All we hear about is coding.

All we hear about is you have to know these things in order to be part of this next-generation economy.

Why does this gap exist if, presumably, school curricula are focused on these very areas?

So, there are a few reasons.

The first is it is growing rapidly.

It is growing -- Cybersecurity jobs are growing about five times faster than IT jobs overall, and the industries that are housing our most valuable information, such as retail, such as healthcare, such as finance, they're seeing demand grow even faster for cybersecurity jobs, so we need to make sure that supply, obviously, is responding to this increase in demand, but all signs indicate that, currently, it's not.

When we look at the talent pipeline for cybersecurity jobs, we see that it is clogged, and one of the main reasons for that is employers are asking for heightened experience and education requirements, and that is preventing new workers from entering into the field, so about 15% of cybersecurity jobs, only about 15%, are open to workers without a bachelor's degree.

Only about 15% are open to workers who don't have at least 3 to 5 years of previous work experience in the field, and so we're effectively chopping off the entry-level rung of the career ladder into cybersecurity.

Joining us to discuss cybersecurity is Jane Oates, president of Working Nation.

Let's talk a little bit about how many jobs are we talking about here?

What's the gap?

I don't think we even have an accurate number.

At any given time, there is hundreds of thousands of jobs open.

We know for a fact that in January of 2019, there are 60,000 open jobs in cybersecurity in California alone, and it's not just working for defense companies or big contractors.

We know in the past big retail outlets have had cyber breaks, so it's small and large companies.

It's everything from manufacturing to healthcare, and these are jobs that our families -- They pay family-supporting wages, and that's why we want to get people knowledgeable and aware of where to get the training.

And we're increasingly in a society where almost everything we do is, in some ways, online, whether it's our e-commerce, whether it's our social presence, right, that there's all of this data that we're generating that is of value to someone, and it becomes hackable.

That's right, and it's only going to increase.

I mean, recent studies have shown that 80% of the data that exists today was created in the last 18 months, so if you look at that accelerated rate of collecting and using data and how it's being used by so many people, these jobs are just going to grow.

How can there be training programs that can be deployed across the country, across different states?

Where do you start?

So many universities have already started.

We have a number of wonderful programs in this country that can take you to a bachelor's level, a master's level, a PhD level.

We're always going to need people at that level, but where there's continuous job growth also is that post-baccalaureate certificate and associate's degree, so as communities realize that these employers are not just in Washington, D.C., or in HQ headquarters in New York or Atlanta, that they're in every nook and cranny of this country, those community colleges are starting to start these programs, and high schools are even starting programs.

In a dream world, we'll have all those programs together, so people can enter at any age into a certificate program and move seamlessly, again, at any age, up to a PhD if that's what they want to do.

Because there are certain skills that you might have picked up in life that can transfer over to this without having to go start from scratch, go to a 4-year higher-ed institution, et cetera.

That's exactly right, and those transferable skills are things that people might not even recognize as transferable.

Certainly, having mathematical ability is something that helps you as you go into any tech career, but some people who don't think they're really good at mathematics, you know, at computation, don't realize that they're really good problem-solvers, and, remember, in this world of cybersecurity, hacking skills, being a disrupter, is just as much a skill as being someone who's learned things in a very planned way throughout their lives.

When you think about this on a national level, whether it's government agencies that see this, whether it's huge companies that see this gap and say, 'I need a workforce that knows how to protect my information and my customers.'

Oh, I think the knowledge base is growing minute by minute, but the reason we chose to take on this topic when we did our town hall was because we don't think it's moving fast enough.

That awareness level is not coming fast enough, so we were -- And, look, I think cybersecurity is our great hope for an equalizer.

We know that women and people of color are severely underrepresented in the tech field.

We think if more young people, young people of color and women, find out that this is a pathway that's a potential for them, they'll enter this field.

These are good jobs, so I think, I hope, that we're helping to get the message out a little bit, and we certainly think that having it on 'SciTech Now' is going to really accelerate that.

All right.

Jane Oates of Working Nation, thanks so much.

Thanks, Hari.

We are now approaching lunar sunrise, and for all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send to you.

Well, Apollo 8 originally was an Earth-orbital mission, exercising a lunar module, but the lunar module was way behind.

We had intelligence information that the Russians were going to put a man around the moon probably in December of 1968.

The people in NASA came up with the idea of moving Apollo 8 to a lunar-orbital mission.

Why don't we send the command service module of Apollo 8 to orbit the moon, and we can learn a lot about the communications system, the navigation system, how the moon's gravity would affect the orbiting spacecraft, what were suitable landing spots?

So we had to condense into 4 months what usually took a year to 18 months of training.

Everybody was motivated.

Everybody was dedicated, and the basic idea was to beat the Russians to the moon.

That was a political goal that was set by President Kennedy, and we were all determined to meet it, to beat it.

Apollo 8 developed a lot of attention.

It filled a big square in preparation for later Apollo flights.

When I got into the big Saturn V, this would be the first time that man had actually launched on a Saturn V, and I thought to myself after this 4 months of heavy training, I said, 'I'm actually going to go to the moon.'

The engines are on.

Four, three, two, one, zero...

Well, the Saturn V still is the most profitable machine ever made, and for 17 missions, it flew perfectly.

We have cleared the tower.

[ Speaking indistinctly ]

We had orbited the Earth, first of all, to check our spacecraft out.

Then, when everything was running and the spacecraft looked fine to go to the moon, we lit the third stage for a second time.

Trajectory and guidance are go, over.

We can actually coast all the way to the moon, and after a while, you could look back and see the Earth getting smaller and smaller.

Apollo 8 burning complete.

Apollo 8 to Houston, Roger.

[ Speaks indistinctly ]

People on Earth tend to call the far side of the moon the dark side, but that's a misnomer.

On our flight, the moon was between the Earth and the sun.

The far side was lit by the sun.

And we saw the far side.

You know, we were like three schoolkids looking into a candy store window, I guess, just staring at the unnamed craters as they slowly passed us by.

We were busy shooting pictures of the lunar surface for lunar landing sites for upcoming lunar landings, and then, suddenly, I looked out the window, and here was this gorgeous orb coming up, and I thought, 'Holy moly.'

And there over the lunar landscape was the Earth.

The Earth was beautiful.

It was the only thing in the whole universe that had any color.

I had fought to have a long lens and color film.

I didn't have a light meter, just banged off a dozen or so pictures, changing the f-stop each click.

I put my thumb up to the window of the spacecraft, and I could completely hide the Earth behind my thumb.

The Earth is a mere speck in the Milky Way galaxy.

Look what we have here -- water and an atmosphere.

We're orbiting a star just at the proper distance to absorb that star's energy.

God has given mankind a stage upon which to perform.

How the play turns out is up to us.

For all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send to you.

In the beginning, God created the heaven and the Earth, and the Earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep, and the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters, and God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light, and God saw the light, that it was good, and from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a merry Christmas, and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.

It's important for America to be at the forefront of space exploration.

That drives technology.

One of the important facets of the Apollo program was the coordination and the organization of the American industry to achieve a great goal, that we need to be a world leader, not just on the Earth but in space.

Approximately 50,000 patients a year are diagnosed with oral cancer.

New treatments are being developed using natural remedies to fight this aggressive disease, including a mouthwash to combat oral cancer.

Here is the story.

Oral cancer is a highly morbid, highly deadly disease, and, unfortunately, its incidence is ever-increasing worldwide.

There are approximately 50,000 patients diagnosed each year in the United States with 10,000 deaths reported annually.

Unfortunately, most of the patients, when they're diagnosed, they have advanced disease, and these patients have a very poor prognosis with a 5-year survival rate of less than 50%. We're seeing an increase due to human papillomavirus, and so as the increase in tumors due to human papillomavirus goes up, even though there's a decrease in tumors related to smoking and alcohol, the overall incidence of these cancers has been on the rise worldwide.

One huge issue is that after the initial diagnosis and treatment, if mouth cancer comes back, it is deadly.

Unfortunately, oral cancer is a highly deadly disease.

The majority of patients have advanced disease at the time of their diagnosis, and this unfortunate because that drops their overall survival rate to less than 50% and can go as low as only 30%, so it's a very deadly disease, and it has a high rate of morbidity, meaning the treatment results in disfigurement and a lot of difficulties in speech and swallowing, so if we can catch it earlier, that would be great, but, unfortunately, it's usually caught in an advanced stage, and most of those patients, up to 75%, will have a recurrence within 2 years, and this is really bad, because within 6 months, they usually will die, and that's even with additional therapy, such as chemotherapy, radiation, and additional surgery.

Oral cancers can be aggressive and deadly, but there is hope in the form of research that is going on right here at the UT Health San Antonio Dental School.

Not only sophisticated research, but often, it comes back to nature itself, in this case, the thyme plant.

My laboratory is interested in developing new treatments for oral cancer, and so we've developed a number of compounds that are based on natural compounds found in nature, so, for example, these studies use thymol, which are derived from plants such as thyme and oregano.

UT Health San Antonio has a patent on a thymol mouth rinse to prevent oral cancer and on its mechanism of action, to use as a treatment for oral cancer.

Tell me a little bit about what we're doing here and what we've discovered here lately.

Exactly, so our goal is to develop new therapies to either prevent recurrent disease or to treat advanced disease.

Another scientist in the Health Science Center was doing a screen of native plants found in Texas, and from that screen, she identified a compound called thymol.

What is your vision for if this is a mouth rinse, how would it be used by the patient, and what effects, if everything works, would it have on the patient?

Well, ideally, we can develop this into a mouth rinse that can be used to prevent primary cancers, so this could be used in patients who are at high risk, such as heavy drinkers or smokers, and then also to prevent recurrences in patients who have already been treated for oral cancer.

In order to move this into a clinical application, our goal is to do clinical trials using our patient population here in San Antonio.

Ideally, we would start with patients who have already or recently completed treatment for cancer and allow them to use this mouth rinse two to three times a day and follow their recurrence rates with the goal of extending those rates out past 2 years.

If we could develop this into an effective mouth rinse that prevents recurrence, we could hopefully extend their survivorship for many years to come.

A new device from a biomedical company in Houston, Texas, is able to visualize a person's vertebrae and is updating the medical process of spinal taps.

Here is the story.

So spinal taps are one of the most common procedures we perform in emergency-room settings.

This procedure has not changed for the past 100 years, and they insert this tiny needle through a dime-sized opening.

The patient is having significant pain.

It becomes increasingly important to be able to do this procedure once and get it on the first try as opposed to trying it multiple times.

I don't know if you guys wanted to break it up into specific things that you think we should be doing for product development right now, and we can kind of go from there, just a broad overview of where we need to go in the next 3 months or so.

We help physicians place spinal needles for lumbar punctures, epidurals, pain management, any kind of injection or collection that has to be done in the spine or spinal column.

♪♪ We're still super, super early, and we have proven the technology.

We developed the first, you know, fully functioning prototype.

We're adding a visual aspect to this otherwise blind procedure, so with our device, it's pretty simple.

It's handheld, and you just press this up against the patient's back, and we look for the vertebrae.

Once we've identified where we want to go, we would simply insert the needle using the needle guide and collect the fluid, and we'd be done.

Today, we really kind of have been regrouping as a team.

We definitely have a lot of more to go, I think.

The look of the prototype is going to change, maybe even drastically, from this point on.

We have a lot of user testing to do and then also technology, so hopefully we're going to keep optimizing it so really focusing on the really important next steps for us, so how do we take this from the proof-of-concept prototype that it is now and kind of move it forward to something that, you know, is closer and closer to a market launch?

Today is demo day for TMCx.

Before, your nerves are kind of building, and even if you've done it 100 times, I think everyone still gets nervous.

♪♪ At this point, we've launched the new -- Phase one is what they call it in development.

What we're really hoping to do is essentially get in front of some people here.

I'm Jessica Traver from IntuiTap Medical, and we are eliminating the guesswork from spinal taps.

I think one of the most important things to remember is that, you know, there are going to be major ups and downs in this process.

You're going to definitely come into people that don't agree with you or don't agree with your idea or don't think it's a good idea.

There are definitely days where you totally want to give up, and you're just like, 'This sucks,' like, I'm just tired all the time, and, you know, it's stressful, and then something comes along, and you stick with it.

Everything will happen eventually.

And that wraps it up for this time.

For more on science, technology and innovation, visit our website, check us out on Facebook and Instagram, and join the conversation on Twitter.

You can also subscribe to our YouTube channel.

Until then, I'm Hari Sreenivasan.

Thanks for watching.