KEARNEY – Cybersecurity experts are in demand.
The number of nation state attackers, industrial spies, organized crime groups and hackers is growing, which puts government, companies and others at increased risk of cyber threats.
As they become more vulnerable to disruption and theft of information, money and essential services, organizations are looking to protect themselves and beefing up network security.
But that presents challenges.
“This is still new to a lot of companies. They don’t have cybersecurity experts on their IT teams,” said Matthew Miller, University of Nebraska at Kearney assistant professor of computer science and information technology.
UNK is doing its part to fill the growing need for cybersecurity experts by adding a new Cybersecurity Operations Bachelor of Science Major. Students can now declare the major, which will be formally offered for the first time in fall 2018.
The computer science and information technology department and information networking and telecommunications program partnered to create the program.
The new program provides students with a background for protecting and defending networks and information systems from cyber attacks. It emphasizes technologies that enhance the national security posture of U.S. intelligence, military and law enforcement special operations, as well as energy, financial and health care corporations.
The need for cybersecurity experts has been realized for some time by the National Security Agency, Department of Homeland Security and Federal Bureau of Investigation, said Sherri Harms, chair of UNK’s CSIT department.
“Higher education in general, and computer science departments in particular, have a huge responsibility to train these experts in order to protect individual rights, privacy, data as well as national security,” said Harms.
UNK’s cybersecurity operations major is based on the NSA’s National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Operations curriculum. Currently, there are only 15 undergraduate programs in the U.S. with that designation, and only a handful of Midwest colleges and universities offer a cybersecurity operations major.
“We’re also one of the few programs with professors in the classroom teaching hands-on labs. That is a huge thing to be interacting with students at that level,” said Angela Hollman, UNK assistant professor of industrial technology.
The new major gives UNK students hands-on experience in programming languages, software reverse engineering, operating system theory, networking, cellular and mobile technologies, discrete mathematics and algorithms, cyber defense, security fundamental principles, vulnerabilities, and legal issues.
Miller said the cybersecurity operations major differs from those that train chief security officers.
“We are training people who are on the keyboard, building and designing systems, and thinking about it that way. We are sending out the hands-on, in depth, technically-trained student,” Miller said.
Average salaries for cybersecurity operations careers are $100,000, said Miller. “Companies are issuing huge salaries in this field because there are large deficits in the number of cybersecurity workers.”
Added Hollman: “Hacks are really a problem. The risk to businesses is huge and keeps growing. We’re just opening everybody’s eyes to all of the career opportunities in cybersecurity. This move aligns UNK with future workforce demands in the field.”
UNK graduates already are finding success in cybersecurity careers, said Hollman, noting former students currently working for large companies such as Cerner and Raytheon, the primary contractor for Department of Defense.
“We have students who have gone out, been hugely successful and are making a lot of money working for these large companies and organizations.
“UNK already has resources and is giving students fundamental skills on the computer science side, IT and networking telecommunications side. It’s exciting to now add the major to put more emphasis on classes we already have in place.”