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Cybersecurity: 6 schools with the right stuff

Shutterstock image (by edel): graduation cap and diploma.

(Edel / Shutterstock)

For all of the finger-pointing and blame-shifting that followed the massive hacks of the Office of Personnel Management, lawmakers and officials agree on this much: The federal government needs more cybersecurity professionals.

That obvious and seemingly insatiable demand has spawned a variety of cybersecurity training programs, some of which cater to veterans and others to active-duty military personnel.

Trainees hoping to land a federal cyber job can take heart in two developments at the departments of Defense and Homeland Security. One is the Pentagon’s goal of building a cyber workforce of approximately 6,200 — and officials say they are already about halfway there. The other is the hiring authority DHS received from Congress late last year that allows DHS to pay cybersecurity experts more than was previously possible and retain them with bonuses.

Although competition for those slots at DHS and DOD will likely be fierce, a good training program can boost an applicant’s chances. Here are six schools that are making an impact.

1. Champlain College

Cybersecurity is part of the 60 online certificate, bachelor’s and master’s degree programs for which Champlain College in Burlington, Vt., is offering steep discounts to federal participants. The cybersecurity “specialization” for undergraduates covers topics such as ethical hacking, introductory programming and information assurance, including risk assessment and government policy.

Sydney Smith-Heimbrock, OPM’s chief learning officer, has touted the college’s online courses as a means of reaching “every civilian employee regardless of their duty station.”

Champlain College is no upstart in cybersecurity: Back in 2007, the National Security Agency and DHS designated it a National Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance.


2. University of Maryland University College

Before its partnership with Champlain College, OPM worked with the University of Maryland University College to offer discounts on training for federal employees. Washington, D.C.-area public transit riders will be familiar with UMUC advertisements touting its cybersecurity credentials, and the college contends that it was one of the first to build cybersecurity into its curriculum.

“UMUC recognized the crisis that we were having with human capital in the cybersecurity-related area,” said retired Lt. Gen. Harry Raduege Jr., former director of the Defense Information Systems Agency, in a promotional video. “I was impressed by that because others may have recognized it, but they weren’t bold in moving and committing so many university resources to addressing this growing area of concern.”

UMUC also boasts partnerships with industry heavyweights, including Cisco, Google and SAIC.

NSA and DISA are among the cyber-related agencies based in Maryland, and UMUC notes that a good number of cybersecurity jobs (about 5 percent as of 2014) are in that state.

3. Louisiana Tech Research Institute

Louisiana Tech University and the Cyber Innovation Center, a research and development outfit in Bossier City, La., announced the creation of the nonprofit Louisiana Tech Research Institute in July. It will provide office and lab space for research, “workforce development efforts and external partnerships with industry and government,” according to the announcement.

The institute will be located at the Cyber Innovation Center’s headquarters at the 3,000-acre National Cyber Research Park, which is already home to several large firms, defense contractors and cybersecurity startups. Computer Sciences Corp., meanwhile, is building a technology center next door.

It is all part of the plan to build an ecosystem of innovation, Louisiana Tech University officials said.

In the statement announcing the institute, officials said: “This integration of academia and industry is critical to support the overall ‘ecosystem’ that furthers innovation, creates entrepreneurship and spin-off companies, and attracts additional federal research funding — all of which drives the expansion of a knowledge-based, 21st-century economy.”

4. University of San Diego

The University of San Diego’s new Center for Cyber Security Engineering and Technology will support master’s degrees in cybersecurity engineering and IT leadership, and the latter will be available online.

“The community can access USD’s cybersecurity expertise through degree and certificate programs, inviting USD’s cyber experts to participate in projects focusing on the evaluation and development of their own systems and strategies to mitigate cyberthreats, and developing internal leadership on cybersecurity IT, cybersecurity law, forensics and incident response,” said Jason Lemon, the university’s dean of professional and continuing education, in a statement.

5. North Carolina State University

North Carolina State University is the site of NSA’s Laboratory for Analytic Sciences and offers a master’s degree in big-data analytics.

NC State was one of four major universities to receive funding from NSA last year for cybersecurity research in five key areas: scalability and composability, policy-governed secure collaboration, security metrics, resilient architectures, and understanding and accounting for human behavior.

The university had previously received a grant of $2.5 million for research ranging from fault-tolerant computing to security context. An NC State professor told FCW that the 2014 funding would be used for similar research, with a focus on the design of trusted IT systems.

NC State lies in North Carolina’s Research Triangle, which is a magnet for engineering and, increasingly, cybersecurity talent.

6. George Mason University

Like UMUC, George Mason University’s proximity to Washington, D.C., makes it a convenient potential pipeline for federal agencies.

The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia approved GMU’s master of science degree in management of secure information systems in 2011. “This isn’t just a technical cybersecurity program,” said Daniel Menasce, who was a senior associate dean in GMU’s Volgenau School of Engineering at the time and is still a computer science professor at the school. “Cybersecurity is not just a technical problem, it is also a policy and management problem.”

The Fairfax, Va., university’s cybersecurity curriculum has since expanded. Officials say GMU is the first college in the country to “offer a cybersecurity engineering degree that focuses on cyber-resilience engineering design.”

The staff of the Volgenau School of Engineering includes Associate Professor Angelos Stavrou, who is also a guest researcher at the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Computer Security Division.

About the Author

Sean Lyngaas is an FCW staff writer covering defense, cybersecurity and intelligence issues. Prior to joining FCW, he was a reporter and editor at Smart Grid Today, where he covered everything from cyber vulnerabilities in the U.S. electric grid to the national energy policies of Britain and Mexico. His reporting on a range of global issues has appeared in publications such as The Atlantic, The Economist, The Washington Diplomat and The Washington Post.

Lyngaas is an active member of the National Press Club, where he served as chairman of the Young Members Committee. He earned his M.A. in international affairs from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and his B.A. in public policy from Duke University.

Click here for previous articles by Lyngaas, or connect with him on Twitter: @snlyngaas.


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