A Q&A With Our Favorite Teacher on #NationalTeacherDay


Teachers – where would we be without them? We all know at least one educator who has changed our lives significantly for the better. Whether it be in daycare, middle school, or graduate school – educators are largely responsible for cultivating not only our intellect but a sense of community. Educators have provided a much-needed sense of stability to millions of students, especially in this past year. We wanted to take this opportunity to give thanks to our founder Dr. Sal Stolfo, Columbia University professor of computer science. Sal started Allure Security with a program he had invented in his laboratory over a dozen years ago. Given that may 4th is thank a teacher day, we thought to ask Sal some questions about the most important profession in the world – being a teacher. 

Who was a teacher or professor that made an impact in your life or inspired you to get into cybersecurity? 

Actually, it was the group at Citibank fighting fraud that was my best teacher.  I found it fascinating learning about all the ways people defraud and trick people. I felt the need to do something about it. 

What do you hope your students learn from you other than the academic material?

Science is social…you cannot do it alone. Collaborations and friendships help everyone advance their understanding to devise solutions to hard problems. 

What’s one skill that you hope all your students learn from you?

Courage to follow your hunches…there are always plenty of reasons to say no to an idea, but if you know you are on to something, do not listen to the naysayers. 

What made you want to be a professor? What is the most underrated aspect of being a professor?

Freedom…I wanted to be free to pursue ideas I wanted to study. I’m not generally a follower…I like to set my own path. Freedom of pursuing ideas that excite you. It is really quite unique. 

How has zoom affected your academic experience? 

I have a love/hate relationship with zoom…I spent the last academic year teaching to my A/C unit in front of my monitor. But I reached the minds of young people across the globe. I hope. 

What is one challenge you face as an educator that typical people wouldn’t think of

How to tell a story to teach really complex ideas. I tend to relate complex ideas to personal experiences to make them “commonsensical”, so they are approachable and memorable. That is very hard to do. A lot harder than simply reading from the textbook. For example, when I tell people about phishing and fraud, I sometimes interject in the conversation, “by the way, what bank do you use for your checking account.” Invariably people will tell me. See? Social engineering at work. It’s easy to trick people when you make them feel comfortable. 

Do you keep in touch with your former students?

My former PhD students are like my children. I keep in touch with all of them as best as possible. 

How many patents do you have? What advice do you have for someone who wants to patent their ideas?

I had my 100th patent issue this year. Search search search to see if anyone else already had that idea….if not, then write up the idea in clear terms with lots of examples of the utility of the idea. The idea to create and insert beacons into data, the core technology behind Allure, was quite new and novel at the time of its first conception. After an extensive search through the academic literature and at USPTO.gov using their patent search function, I found no others invented the idea. 

Have students ever directly asked you for a post-graduate job?

Yes. And he is happy as Director of Engineering in Allure Security. https://www.linkedin.com/in/shlomo-hershkop-692747b9/

We’ve been told that Allure Security was founded as part of your research in Columbia. Is that true? 

The core technology was one of my inventions from my research in my Columbia IDS lab…a lunch with a friend and a discussion about what value that idea could be to a large number of people convinced me to start the company. Transition funding from DARPA helped launch the company. 

What inspired you to create the Allure Security?

The realization that the bad guys had no fear of being caught. They break-in, they take, and they leave with absolutely nothing to fear. They trick people, take their identities, and create havoc with people’s lives. Enough already.  It was time to change all that and create costs for them. You can learn more about how we do this at Allure Security here

Being an educator is one of the most undervalued professions in the world. It is also the most important. Take some time today to thank one of the teachers who have impacted your life for the better. Send the message that we appreciate all they have done and continue to do – it means a lot. If you’d like to connect with Sal and thank him personally, his LinkedIn is the perfect vector to reach him on!

Post Date

A Q&A With Our Favorite Teacher on #NationalTeacherDay

A Q&A With Our Favorite Teacher on #NationalTeacherDay