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College cybersecurity programs on rise

UAlbany, SCCC, RPI offerings meet growing need

Saturday, August 3, 2013
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— When students study cybersecurity at the University at Albany, they discuss ethics and sign a document vowing not to use what they learn for nefarious purposes.

The goal of UAlbany’s growing cybersecurity program is to train people to protect information and networks from intrusion, not the next generation of hackers and cyberthieves, said Sanjay Goel, an associate professor in the Information Technology Management Department at UAlbany’s School of Business.

“We try to teach our students right from wrong,” Goel said. “But what they do in the end is up to them.”

Cybersecurity is a growing field, and colleges and universities throughout the country are adding courses, certificates and majors in the subject. In response to the question “Why Choose This Degree?” on its website, UAlbany says that graduates will go on to “fight cyber criminals, defend against hack attacks and protect information systems in Fortune 500 companies, small businesses and government agencies.”

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, job prospects for information security analysts, web developers and computer network architects — a category that includes cybersecurity professionals — are strong. Between 2010 and 2020, the field is expected to add over 65,000 jobs; the median pay in 2010 was $75,660 per year.

Cybersecurity describes the technologies and practices designed to protect computer-based networks, programs and data from attack and unauthorized access. In recent years, such intrusions have become increasingly common; in May, a global gang of hackers stole $45 million in a matter of hours from thousands of ATM machines around the world. Banks and government agencies are particularly vulnerable to cyberattacks, experts say.

Goel said that cybersecurity entails “protecting information and access to systems and networks.”

Keion Clinton, an assistant professor in math, science and technology who teaches cybersecurity at Schenectady County Community College, agreed. “Cybersecurity is information security,” he said. “You’re trying to control who does or doesn’t have access to your data.”

The University at Albany started offering courses in cybersecurity about seven years ago. Two years ago, the school created a graduate certificate in information security that draws a mix of graduate students, undergraduates and professionals seeking to learn about the field.

“We recognized the importance of cybersecurity,” said Goel, who also serves as the director of research at the New York State Center for Information Forensics and Assurance at the university. “It’s an emerging discipline.”

Schenectady County Community College had a similar rationale for adding a cybersecurity component to its two-year degree program in computer networking systems in 2011.

“We knew that cybersecurity was a growing area,” Peggy Haynes, vice president of academic affairs at SCCC. “The jobs are there.”

At both SCCC and the University at Albany, the cybersecurity courses have proven popular. The University at Albany initially offered four courses in information security; today it offers about nine.

Clinton said that good students view the courses as “the key to getting a job,” while “the bad students are like, ‘Now I can hack into my parents’ computer.’ ” The hope, Haynes said, is that graduates will work to prevent security breaches, rather than carry them out.

Albany resident Seth Cagle, 36, is taking his second course in cybersecurity at UAlbany. A graduate student in the school’s MBA program, he said that he was debating whether to focus on finance or information technology, and now is considering a career in cybersecurity.

“I’d really like to apply what I’m learning, maybe in the public sector,” said Cagle, who taught special education for BOCES until deciding to go back to school full-time and change careers. “I’d like to join the fight for good.”

Cagle said he became interested in cybersecurity as a result of the news.

“It’s a really hot topic,” he said. “I decided that it was something I should know about.”

Like Cagle, Albany resident Sean O’Higgins decided to take UAlbany’s introduction to information and cybersecurity course because the topic sounded interesting. He said that the course “succeeded in scaring me about all the threats that are out there. … I’m certainly being more careful day to day.”

O’Higgins, 32, is also enrolled in the University at Albany’s MBA program. He said that he recently started a new job at BullEx, an Albany-based manufacturer of fire safety equipment, and that he hopes to help make the company safe from cyberattacks.

“Cybersecurity is an important thing for people to know about,” he said.

The University at Albany recently received approval to offer a new undergraduate major in digital forensics, a branch of computer science that focuses on the recovery and interpretation of electronic data for use in court proceedings. The school has already begun teaching courses in this area, and plans to launch the major in 2014.

Last month, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute announced that the school’s Information Technology and Web Science program would train a select group of U.S. Navy officers in military cyberspace operations.

Under a three-year agreement, the Navy will enroll between five and 10 officers annually in a new “information dominance” concentration within RPI’s master of science in information technology program.

Although the program was created specifically to meet the needs of the Navy, it is open to RPI students.

Peter Fox, director of RPI’s Information Technology and Web Science program, said that the information dominance program will focus on teaching the Navy officers how to identify the patterns and trends that could indicate that a cyberattack is imminent. “It’s very rare for an attack to be unprecedented,” he said. “Attacks are usually preceded by activity.”

The program aims to develop the officers’ situational awareness and ability to predict when problems will arise, he said. The first group of students will arrive on campus in August.

“We expect the Navy officers to come in with problems that they haven’t been able to solve,” Fox said.

ITWS was established as a graduate degree program in the late 1990s, and began offering the first undergraduate degree in web science in 2010. Both the undergraduate and graduate degree programs offer concentrations in information security.

Interest in the information security concentration has been on the rise, particularly among graduate students, and today 20 percent of the students in the ITWS master’s program choose to focus on cybersecurity, Fox said.

“It’s a very attractive field,” he said.

 
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