Programmed to succeed: Alumnus thrives in growing cybersecurity field

EDITOR’S NOTE:  We officially changed our name from University of Maryland University College (UMUC) to University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) on July 1, 2019. News stories posted on the Career Connection blog are now using the new UMGC name. However, because the transition to the university’s new name will take several months to complete, you may still see the UMUC name, logo and look on our website and other materials through early 2020.

Although David Zito loved computer science during college, the idea of sitting in a cubicle all day writing code wasn’t quite what he wanted for his future. It wasn’t until a surprise addition to his undergraduate program that he found his true passion: cybersecurity.

Zito was attending a small liberal arts college in Virginia when the school began to offer minors in cybersecurity and computer security. He was intrigued by this new program, which was on the cutting edge at the time. “I was fascinated by it,” he says. “The thrill of the hunt called out to me. You got paid to chase the bad guys.”

A career beckons

After earning his bachelor’s degree in 2006, Zito accepted a position with Northrup Grumman. There, he investigated advanced persistent threats and conducted proactive analysis of them. He stayed in this position for eight years before becoming a contractor with the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT), an organization within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

From there, he moved to his current position: deputy section chief of the Host Forensics Section in the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s (CISA) Hunt and Incident Response Team).

His new organization, which was launched just last year, is responsible for conducting emergency response and investigation into cyber attacks on critical infrastructure within the federal, state, local, tribal, territorial, and civilian sectors, particularly for organizations that do not have the expertise or capacity to respond appropriately themselves. In particular, Zito’s team provides support to entities that are essential to the day-to-day operations of the U.S., including water and power utilities, hospitals and academic institutions, to name a few.

“If there is an organization that needs cyber assistance or support in the event of a cyber intrusion, we take it under consideration to see if it falls under what we consider to be critical infrastructure,” explains Zito.

If it does, Zito sends a team of investigators to assess the situation and determine the best approach for stopping the threat and preventing it from happening again.

“It’s fun and exciting,” Zito says of his new role. “We’re dealing with advanced persistent threats, and no two days are the same.”

Because his organization is so new, one of his duties is to get the message out to would-be clients so they know who to call in the event of a cyber incident. “I’m working on getting our brand out there,” Zito says. “I’m spreading awareness of who we are and what we do. We have representatives across the country who preach about our existence and our capabilities to people we hope will be our constituents and stakeholders.”

Advancing his skill set

To better prepare himself to succeed in his perpetually changing field, Zito decided to pursue a Master of Science in Cybersecurity degree from UMUC. He chose UMUC because it was the first university to offer this degree program with a technology track. Plus, he could earn his degree remotely.

“UMUC had exactly what I was looking for with the flexibility of being able to do it from home,” he says.

Zito says that his master’s degree has armed him with the skills he needs to thrive in his profession. “My degree has given me the ability to unlock doors in my career that I normally wouldn’t be able to,” he says. “It gave me the knowledge to be able to problem solve and be able to think critically at advanced levels.”

Zito is thrilled to have found his professional calling, and he’s proud of the work he and his team do. “No problem or investigation is ever the same,” he says. “I work with a group of stellar analysts, and I manage a group of incredibly smart people. There hasn’t been a problem we haven’t been able to solve yet.”