CS&E alum is building confidence in uncertain times

Most of us have received a work email warning us not to click on suspicious links. Unfortunately, many of those scams are becoming less and less suspicious, while the scammers become more and more sophisticated. Meanwhile, not everyone heeds the warnings.

“If everybody did what they were supposed to, I wouldn’t have a job,” said Adolph Barclift (B.S. 2006), chief information security officer at Five Star Bank in Rochester, N.Y. Barclift leads the bank’s information and cybersecurity program. His job is to protect the company and its customers from internal and external security threats.

Financial institutions are a popular target for theft and fraud, but not just because of the money. A person’s bank is a central part of their identity—revealing one’s likes and interests, buying habits, destinations, and more.

“Increasingly, our digital self is as big or bigger than our physical self,” said Barclift. And that digital self is often more valuable than the money in our savings account.

To illustrate, Barclift describes a common phishing scam: The scammer files a fraudulent unemployment claim, but they can’t have the check go directly to them for obvious reasons. Instead, they set up bill pay on your bank account and use you as the conduit. Now the check goes through your account to the scammer’s bill pay. You don’t notice it because you pay all your bills electronically. Sure, you might notice a deduction here and a credit there, but it all balances out just fine.

And it all started by clicking a link in an email that looked totally legit. This happens in the office as well, with scam emails that appear to be coming from the CEO or another executive, asking you to “send this check right away, we need to close this deal!”

Along with phishing scams, Barclift is on the lookout for everything from malware to ransomware. With more than 20 years of experience in cybersecurity, he knows how to anticipate and tackle the threats before it’s too late.

By the time Barclift attended the University of Minnesota in the mid-2000s, he had already studied computer science at the University of Illinois and worked in the field for two decades. His studies at the University of Minnesota gave him a much-needed reboot of knowledge and skills, while piquing his interest in information security.

Barclift also has a strong background in data visualization. This helps him understand complex security topics and explain them clearly to others. Thanks to steady advancements in artificial intelligence, it’s easier than ever to consume large amounts of data. As a result, it’s easier for Barclift to help people make informed decisions, complete with some convincing charts and graphs.

Oddly enough, helping people make informed decisions isn’t the best way to make friends. “On any given day, I’m probably telling you something that you don’t want to hear,” said Barclift. “I might be telling you to spend money that you hadn’t planned on spending, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Nevertheless, Barclift loves his line of work and enjoys the challenge it brings. In September 2019, just a few months before the coronavirus was dubbed a pandemic, Barclift became the Chief Information Security Officer at Five Star Bank. The sudden transition to a remote workforce brought its own set of security challenges. And back in 2007, Barclift took on the role of database and infrastructure manager for Fannie Mae. Then came the global financial crisis.

“I like helping people decide what to do in difficult situations,” he said. “It’s not about fear, it’s about building confidence.”