Julio A. Vargas Salas is a mechatronics engineer who came to Russia from Mexico in 2018 to study a Master’s in Computer System Information Security, but how did it all begin?

“There are a lot of things to say about this, so I will try to be brief. One day, I was reading a random IT blog, when suddenly a header caught my attention: “Meet the CTF team that won the same world competition for seven consecutive years!”. It was obvious to me that if they were so good as to accomplish that, they must have had very high-quality professors, so I decided to Google the team’s name and voilà: ITMO University. I then proceeded to visit the ITMO University website and a huge banner was showing at the top: “Open Doors: Russian Scholarship Project. Apply now!” I really had no plans to come. It was just a dream for me back then.”

Julio Vargas
Julio Vargas

It really is amazing how someone’s life can change so dramatically in just one moment. One simple coincidence in the space and time continuum can push the first piece that creates that stunning “Domino effect”. A life-changing moment, however, a change this big only means to walk into the unknown, to conquer it and to never be who you were before. Just as the literary text “The Hero’s Journey” by Joseph Campbell, at the end of the Odyssey, our main character grows and never goes back to what he was at the beginning.

A life-changing journey is never easy, so we asked Julio what were his first challenges when he arrived in Russia.

“The biggest one is the language, of course. Something as simple as withdrawing money from an ATM was a whole adventure. The same goes for shopping at the supermarket or traveling by metro. I have to say that I was very lucky because a lot of people in the streets helped me by using my phone or even theirs as translators to explain to me how some things worked. Unfortunately, some of my friends told me they had a different experience.”

Was there something Julio would have benefited from if he knew it before coming to St. Petersburg?

“Yes. In addition to the language, I should have considered learning how to properly chores, like cooking, sewing, sweeping, making laundry, etc. and it is not always about the money, but about the time that you spend looking for somebody to help you.”

Cybersecurity is crucial these days. Since it’s also part of his major, we asked Julio’s take on this subject.

“One main reason is that we’re living in a world where almost every device is connected to some extent to some kind of network. Although every company is enforced by law to keep our data safe, we can’t take it for granted and ignore the fact that there are numerous criminal organizations willing to steal your data, and we know that they are capable of doing whatever it takes to break into the security and obtain the information they need.”

What are some of his recommendations to stay safe?

“Never post any of your information if it’s not required or if you’re not sure that you are dealing with a trustworthy channel or platform. The main source of information for cybercriminals is social connections. I know that you think that only the people that you know can see your profiles, but you are wrong.

I widely recommend not to post pictures of your family, references of places that you visit very often, your job, school schedules or any valuable goods that you may have.

Once any type of information is online, it will remain there forever. Don’t forget it.”

Does he think we’re getting too close to George Orwell’s science fiction?

“I don’t want to worry anyone, but this is already a reality. All the information you post on social connections is totally public, a lot of companies can freely collect and analyze it in order to find out which products or services would suit each consumer, according to their interests. This information is sold to other companies who are in charge of offering those products or services, so they can contact you by email with some offers and product discounts and ensure a sale.

It’s not a coincidence receiving an email showing you discounts on something that you needed to acquire at the perfect time. In some cases, these discounts are going to be so good that sometimes they will make you change your mind about what you wanted to buy. If you carefully think about it, they have already influenced you to prefer certain products.

So, we could say that the role of the Big Brother in this society is clearly assumed by the huge companies. they are not only collecting your information by using social connections, but also by using your smartphone’s GPS to know the places that you usually go to, or your smartwatch’s data to suggest to you some gyms or medicines according to your vital signs and the distance traveled.”

With all this happening, we were excited to hear about Julio’s current projects as they pertain to information security.

“I am currently working on my thesis, it’s about new approaches to detect malware. I always found malware topics fascinating and I’m doing my best to create a product that can really be useful for everyone. That’s my professional and social goal. As a mechatronic engineer and future information security expert, I believe I can merge these two disciplines in a useful way, and work at a very deep level with them.”

Written by Ethan Avila

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