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Bo Wandschneider – University of Toronto

He puts resilience in University of Toronto’s cyber defense

Not too many years ago, it might have sounded like hyperbole for Bo Wandschneider to call cybersecurity the fourth line of defense, along with air, land and sea. Now, the warning seems spot-on with organized crime and nation-states having intensified cyberattacks since remote and hybrid work became business as usual due to COVID-19’s onset over three years ago.

With academia among the most popular targets, Wandschneider cites the need for universities and colleges to collaborate in defense. He’s been among those fronting the cause as chief information officer since 2017 at the University of Toronto, Canada’s only university ranked in the Top 20 in the world, and the largest university in the global Top 200.

Bo Wandschneider | Chief Information Officer | University of Toronto

Bo Wandschneider | Chief Information Officer | University of Toronto

“If one institution is being attacked, so are the others,” he says. “Threat sharing is important. I’ll share my indicators of compromise and a profile of an attack in real time so others can be on guard.”

They too can join an initiative Wandschneider co-founded in 2018 with five other academic institutions: The Canadian Shared Security Operations Centre, which now has more than 150 schools aiding each other’s cyber defense by sharing ideas and brainstorming. Since then, CanSSOC has become a stronger entity, merging with another nonprofit, the Canadian Network for the Advancement of Research, Industry and Education.

CANARIE, as it’s popularly called, operates the backbone of Canada’s National Research and Education Network, a specialized internet service provider supporting the nation’s research and education communities.

CANHEIT 2023

From June 19-21, Wandschneider will discuss CanSSOC and other initiatives as chair of CANHEIT 2023—the Canadian Higher Education Information Technology Conference—at the University of Toronto’s St. George campus. Overseen by CUCCIO—Canadian University Council of CIOs—CANHEIT is the premier national conference that assembles CIOs and other IT professionals from across the post-secondary sector to share ideas and best practices.

Wandschneider’s agenda includes leading a session on IT resiliency as part of a panel of three CIOs. An infotech professional since 1986, he’ll be partnered with a diverse group. There’s much to learn from all hands, he emphasizes.

“We’ve all been playing catch-up,” Wandschneider tells Toggle. “Much has changed significantly since the pandemic with the risk element introduced into the remote workforce. Ransomware is real.”

Bo Wandschneider | Chief Information Officer | University of Toronto

The front west wing of University College in spring.

That said, Wandschneider credits the University of Toronto for taking pre-pandemic cautions. Thanks to basic IT training, much of the staff had already adjusted to multi-factor authentication and not clicking on random emails and links. Protective tools also matured during COVID-19 and the university benefited from fast rollout of enhancements.

“Cloud providers were able to pivot and meet our changing needs in ways that we would not have achieved if in isolation,” he says. “We worked with Instructure on their Amazon Web Services platform to provide a robust pivot to online learning.”

The pandemic also had the university pivoting on other IT fronts. It addressed its laptop gap, invested in its academic technology toolbox and enhanced its virtual private network.

Cloud enterprise network technology enabled its students in China to more efficiently connect to the university—a necessity to sustain enrollment from there. Wandschneider and his team harnessed the expertise from valued partners—among them, Microsoft, Sentinel One, Rogers Communications, ISA Cyber Security and Dell Technologies— and the university became a wellspring of assistance to its remote community.

“Other schools looked to us for advice and guidance, especially for their homegrown solutions as they got deeper into the pandemic and needed more robust reportioning and tracking,” he says. “Being agile and redirecting resources benefited us greatly.”

A common interest

Wandschneider will offer and accept more ideas during CANHEIT 2023, the theme of which is “Strength in Community.” Practically every college and university are in the same boat when it comes to warding off hackers and just staying even with the rising tech curve.

Thus the need for a pipeline of young tech talent willing to build a career in academia. According to Wandschneider, it takes a special type: One who’s not just interested in tangible rewards.

The university has those types, he says, and doubles down on retention through professional development and other incentives. Earlier this year, Wandschneider hosted a town hall with Steve Joordens, a University of Toronto Scarborough psychology professor, and the Genwell Project, a nonprofit that focuses on human connection. The response was positive, Wandschneider noting how the entire ITS division participated and connected with peers.

“We’re not the private sphere where the emphasis is profit,” he says. “We are working in the public sphere and supporting world-renowned research and developing better citizens.”

Bo Wandschneider | Chief Information Officer | University of Toronto

He’s glad he went that route after earning an economics degree from Queen’s University in 1985 and a master’s in the subject from the University of Guelph one year later. But like so many of his colleagues, his IT career wasn’t completely planned.

As an undergrad, he worked with a professor who was digitalizing agricultural data from the second half of the 19th century. Through this process, Wandschneider learned data management and analytics on the mainframe computer. Come grad school, he was among a select few familiar with these systems and thus became the go-to whenever such insight was needed.

He began a 26-year run at the University of Guelph in 1986, ascending to deputy CIO and associate director of strategic planning and partnerships. He moved to Queen’s University in 2011 to be associate vice principal of IT, and six years later accepted the CIO position at the University of Toronto.

“I was told I’d have to up my game, but I thought I had upped my game throughout my life,” he says. “The bar is very high and U of T provides a platform where creative ideas come to life and are realized.”

Head of the class

Indeed, this is a three-campus public research university whose graduates include four prime ministers and four foreign leaders. A position here gives Wandschneider a voice in the international community and he’s using it to emphasize the need for tightened cybersecurity in academia and elsewhere.

In 2018, that voice was loud enough for the University of Toronto to partner with the University of British Columbia, University of Alberta, McMaster University, Toronto Metropolitan University and McGill University in launching CanSSOC. The growing number of participating Canadian colleges and universities attest to his influence.

Bo Wandschneider | Chief Information Officer | University of Toronto

Thirty-seven years of IT immersion hasn’t dulled his passion and he’s not thinking of retirement. On the contrary, he’s plunged into the Institute of Corporate Directors course at the university’s Rotman School of Management.

“I won’t compare myself to Bill Gates,” he says with a good-natured laugh. “But we both received free and unfettered access to mainframe computers when we were early on and that was a game changer. It’s funny how these things happen. I love what I’m doing and working with such smart and amazing people. It’s such a rewarding place to work.”

View this feature in the Summer I 2023 Edition here.

Published on: May 12, 2023

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