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RSAC Scholar George Canfil Has Advice for Cyber Students

Alex Kasten
By Alex Kasten

University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) has participated in the RSA Conference (RSAC) Security Scholar Program since its inception in 2016. Through carefully curated experiences, the program connects up-and-coming cybersecurity students to thought leaders, industry luminaries, peers, and conference attendees. The goal is to share knowledge, experience, and connections to enrich the discourse on how to stay ahead of cyber threats.

For George Canfil, who earned his Master of Science in Cyber Operations this spring, the experience was eye-opening.

“One of the biggest benefits of attending is the opportunity to gain exposure to people in the field, all at various stages of their career,” he said.

Canfil was selected by the cybersecurity faculty at UMGC to participate in the 2023 program, which took place in San Francisco, April 24 to 27. For Canfil, who recently retired from the U.S. Army after a 22-year career, the biggest thrill was meeting Whitfield Diffie, the American cryptographer who, with Martin Hellman, created the Diffie–Hellman key exchange, a mathematical method for securely exchanging cryptographic keys over a public channel.

Canfil has been interested in computers his entire life, but it wasn’t until 2014, about midway through his military career, that his interests pivoted to cybersecurity.

“I was stationed in Stuttgart, Germany, with Special Operations Command Europe, and I met an NSA [National Security Agency] contractor who seemed to know everything about security,” he said. “I picked his brain so much that I eventually created a cyber brief to spread awareness of various threats, which springboarded my interest in cybersecurity.”

For anyone considering a career in the ever-changing and highly technical field of cybersecurity, Canfil advises, “Don’t go into it just because you think you want to do it. Do it because you truly want to do it.”

He adds: “At the end of the day, you will essentially self-select whether or not you're going to succeed because there is no middle ground.”

Canfil also maintains that anyone in the cyber field must be committed to lifelong learning.  “Nobody knows everything,” he explained. “Be an honest broker of your background and tell yourself that you’re here to learn every day.” In short, it’s a marathon not a sprint.

With his master’s in cyber operations in hand, Canfil has just accepted an offer from Fannie Mae, where he will work in incident response and threat detection. His plan is to take his own advice: embrace it fully and learn all he can, every day.