cybersecurity

Receiving an Education in Cybersecurity

How the state’s colleges and universities are preparing students for careers in one of today’s most in-demand fields.

With security breaches at the nation’s largest corporations – and the national government – consistently making headlines, it’s no surprise that the cybersecurity industry is growing at a staggering pace both in the Garden State and across the country. That’s why the state’s colleges and universities are continuously developing and adapting cutting-edge academic programs to prepare students for careers in this ever-changing field.

“New Jersey and New York are home to many banking, financial and healthcare firms, and they’re a central hub of cybersecurity jobs and education,” asserts Dr. Patricia Morreale, professor of computer science at Kean University. Opportunities abound in public service, she adds, such as the FBI, the New Jersey Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Cell, and the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security as well as at organizations across the East Coast (particularly the Maryland-Washington, D.C. corridor, due to government and military sector enterprises).

“Every firm, from utilities to consulting, wants to make sure it has plans in place to prevent cyber breaches, and roadmaps for maintaining and re-securing operations in the event of an intrusion,” Morreale says. “Whether it’s the Midwest or West Coast, from Texas to California, there are cyber opportunities available, following industry and technology.”

Training College Students for Cybersecurity Careers

That’s precisely why the state’s colleges and universities have been ramping up their cybersecurity programs to arm students with the skills they’ll need to secure a position in this field. And with good reason – the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that careers in this field are offering $95,000 median salaries, with 26 percent growth projected from 2016 to 2026. Kean University, for example, offers a BS in computer science degree with a cybersecurity option, as well as a BS information technology degree with a cybersecurity option, in addition to a minor in cybersecurity.

“When I first started, there were maybe 300,000 jobs in cybersecurity across the country … and now the projections are up to 3.5 million jobs by 2021,” adds Dr. James J. Drylie, executive director for the school of criminal justice and public administration and executive director of the Cybersecurity Center in the College of Business and Public Management at Kean University. “And that’s because even as you move down into the county and local levels, such as police departments and municipalities, everybody is taking steps to improve their posture relative to cybersecurity … and it’s still a work in progress for almost all of them.”

Indeed, many of the state’s institutions of higher education are taking it upon themselves to educate all of their students on cybersecurity breaches and how to avoid engaging in behavior that could put future employers at risk. “Many organizations are still looking at cybersecurity in terms of risk management and hiring a team to take care of it, but we impress upon students that it’s everybody’s responsibility – if employees are engaging in risky habits, their employer is eventually going to have issues,” he adds. “Much like we develop emergency management strategies for natural disasters, businesses have to plan for cyber risks and attacks and understand how they can happen in the first place.”

Growth of the Cybersecurity Industry

Ken Robell, dean of academic affairs at Salem Community College, agrees that cybersecurity is one of the fastest growing industries in the country. Among the key job opportunities are information security analysts and security management specialists for graduates with a degree in this field, he notes. “This is in addition to the many current computer industry professionals who are expanding their skill sets with additional education in the area of cybersecurity,” he adds.

Salem Community College offers an associate’s degree of science in cybersecurity, which focuses on giving students a foundation in the technical skills essential for success, such as computer operating systems, computer networking, and network security. The program also introduces students to computer forensics, the field of collecting, analyzing and reporting on digital data from a security standpoint.

“You only need to look at the headlines to see that cybersecurity is a real concern. This is true whether you’re looking at election security or a business’ proprietary information,” Robell adds.

Dr. Anthony J. Iacono, president of the County College of Morris (CCM), adds that while cybersecurity careers were at one time primarily associated with banking and finance – and eventually retail – industries, today nearly every industry requires some form of protection from breaches and attacks. Last year, CCM became designated as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Two-Year Education (CAE2Y) – the first and only community college in New Jersey to receive this designation. The CCM Department of Information Technologies established the CCM Center for Cybersecurity to further its mission of educating future cybersecurity professionals.

“Whether you’re a small ‘mom and pop’ business or a global corporation, everyone is equal in terms of the likelihood of incurring a cyber attack,” Iacono says. “And what are you going to do about it? Hire someone with expertise and skills in cybersecurity to protect your business.”

According to Dr. Kurt Rohloff, associate professor of computer science at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) and CTO and co-founder of Duality Technologies, there’s an expanding array of career opportunities in cybersecurity both in New Jersey and across the country. “Developing new technologies takes both newly-trained and experienced professionals – and there are never enough of either,” he says.

There are numerous well-paid, long-term research, development and engineering positions across Northern New Jersey, particularly in metropolitan Newark, and around metropolitan Philadelphia in support of the United States defense industry, he says. “Someone with the right mix of skills and abilities to design cybersecurity technologies could obtain a wide array of well-paying jobs across the country,” he adds.

NJIT offers several relevant degrees, from a BS, MS, and PhD in computer science as well as specializations focused on cybersecurity, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels. “I’ve found that experience in software engineering is also one of the most general and important skills for a long-term career in cybersecurity that is also applicable in a wide array of other fields,” he adds.

According to recent BLS statistics, the demand for information security analysts is expected to grow, as these analysts will be needed to develop innovative solutions to prevent critical networks and information assets from cyber attacks. “The number of qualified entrants into the cybersecurity workforce has not kept pace with demand, leaving a significant gap in the number of qualified personnel adequately trained to protect information systems and assets from cyber attacks,” says Dr. Amjad Ali, associate dean of the School of Applied Science and Technology at Thomas Edison State University.

Dr. Ali notes that in New Jersey alone, there were more than 10,000 openings for cybersecurity-related positions between April 2017 and March 2018. “However, data shows that the supply of cybersecurity professionals in New Jersey is extremely low in response to the high demand for cyber workforce in the state,” he adds. Thomas Edison State University offers several programs in cybersecurity, including a bachelor’s degree, undergraduate and graduate certificates, and an MS in information technology with specialization in cybersecurity – critical infrastructure.

“This industry is definitely growing, as there seems to be a much larger high-level recognition of the importance of cybersecurity,” Ali says. “This has been driving government officials to write stronger policy regarding the use of cybersecurity technologies, and it has been driving high-level business executives to use more cybersecurity technologies to protect their business interests.”

Keeping Up With the Latest Threats

Of course, the state’s colleges and universities don’t only have the responsibility of preparing students for a career in the cybersecurity field – they also have to develop constantly-evolving curricula to address the latest threats. Ali notes that cybersecurity threats to computer systems and other assets have been growing in impact, scale, scope and complexity. “Protecting the information networks that support our financial markets, critical infrastructure, military systems, as well as the systems that store intellectual property and private information of American businesses and individuals, has become a national priority,” he says.

As such, the state’s colleges and universities have to keep their finger on the pulse of cybersecurity threats, and do so by partnering with local businesses and industries and establishing advisory boards. At Thomas Edison State University, for example, a Cybersecurity Program Advisory Board is comprised of cybersecurity leaders and experts with experience in both public- and private-sector organizations.

Academic programs might include some of the emerging trends and latest technological advances related to cybersecurity, such as cloud computing security, security of the internet of things (IoT), supply chain security, and blockchain technology for IT security, which Ali notes are some of the current trends in the field. “Our board members regularly provide feedback and recommendations to keep our cybersecurity programs current and relevant to the needs of both public- and private-sector organizations,” he adds.

Drylie notes that Kean University participates in seminars, conferences, and workshops along with state and national law enforcement, private-sector businesses, and other organizations. “These are all open to students, and have faculty involved as presenters,” he adds. “We’re engaged in ongoing research to become aware of the new and emerging trends that are out there.”

Looking ahead, the state’s institutions of higher education are remaining dedicated to staying ahead of the advances in cybersecurity to ensure that they’re producing skilled, qualified professionals who can help any employer protect their business from cyber attacks.

“We stress to our students that majoring in computer science and information technology means they must be lifelong learners, as they’re entering an environment of rapid change and evolution,” Morreale concludes. “Change is the only constant.”

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