Cyber service not a 'great deal'

Infotec 2002

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An 18-month-old scholarship program designed to encourage college students to work for the federal government as information security professionals after graduation provides so few real-world incentives that it's almost counterproductive, some noted academics in the computer security field said recently.

The National Science Foundation's Scholarship for Service is "a wonderful idea, with the emphasis on the word 'idea,' " said Matt Bishop, a computer science professor at the University of California, Davis, who specializes in the design of secure systems.

The program offers two-year scholarships to students who commit to serving in government security positions for two years as part of the Federal Cyber Service. It originally was modeled after the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) scholarship program, said Blaine Burnham, founding director of the Nebraska University Consortium on Information Assurance (NUCIA) and a former information security expert for the National Security Agency.

"But the federal government invested a lot of money to get ROTC going," Burnham said. In addition, with universities nationwide lacking information security specialists, "where are you going to get the faculty" to teach it?

Bishop and Burnham spoke April 22 at Infotec 2002, an information security conference in Omaha, Nebraska, sponsored by NUCIA and the Association of Information Technology Professionals.

UC-Davis, which has one of the premier computer security faculties in the country, did not apply to become one of the schools participating in the Scholarship for Service program because officials were not certain that enough students would sign up to justify investing precious funding, Bishop said.

Government salaries are so low in comparison to the salaries that security professionals can make in industry that students prefer to take out tuition loans and repay them after graduation instead of accepting the scholarship, he added. "They just don't see [the Scholarship for Service program] as that great a deal," he said.

Besides raising pay levels for graduates of the program, the NSF also should vary the requirements for the scholarship and the commitments required after graduation, Bishop and Burnham said. Some students, for example, want to work for the Defense Department and would be more interested in the scholarships if they weren't required to work in civilian agencies, the professors noted.

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