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NerdScholar Favorites: Cybersecurity Programs

Feb. 19, 2014
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A spike in cyber attacks on critical infrastructure—roughly 175 more in 2012 than 2009—has heightened awareness for cybersecurity. Millions of Target shoppers experienced the real danger of cyber attacks this past November when hackers stole their credit card information quietly and systematically. It cost financial institutions over $200 million to remedy the damage, The Wall Street Journal reports. By 2020 the need for cybersecurity-related positions will have increased by 22%, the U.S. Labor Department predicts.

Universities and colleges have kept up with this growing demand by incorporating cybersecurity classes into their computer science course offerings, or by creating a new department altogether. Cybersecurity courses focus on diagnosis and response procedures for cyber attacks, mitigating cyber vulnerability, and, in some cases, hands-on research. It isn’t an easy field and, in addition to technical skills, it requires a lot of quick thinking and versatility. Luckily, many students have shown that they’re up to the challenge.

To highlight a few of our favorites, NerdScholar compiled a list of top cybersecurity programs across the country. When these students graduate, we want them on hand to protect our computer systems.


University of Massachusetts at AmherstBest Resources

At UMass-Amherst, the School of Computer Science offers a concentration in Security and Privacy. The concentration is a designated sub-set of classes in the computer science major led by faculty who are breaking ground with their research in security and privacy. For professor Emery Berger, allowing students to contribute to this research is one of UMass’s biggest strengths. “UMass students focused on cybersecurity have the opportunity to do security research with exceptional real-world impact,” Berger says. “For example, professor Brian Levine’s group developed software that is in use by all 50 states to track cybercriminals, while research from my own group directly inspired the security enhancements incorporated into Windows 8.” UMass is also affiliated with the Advanced Cyber Security Center (ACSC), a nonprofit consortium of which the UMass system is a member and partner. The ACSC has traditionally issued research grants to UMass campuses for cyber research projects.


George Washington UniversityBest Location

Launched in fall 2013, George Washington University’s M.S. in cybersecurity is the first of its kind in D.C. This program supplements the undergraduate concentration in computer security and assurance within the computer science major. It’s also common for students outside of the computer science major to take a cybersecurity course at GW—50 courses in eight departments cover various aspects of the topic. Clearly, GW has made cybersecurity a priority. “GW’s location a few blocks from the White House and at the center of the federal government cybersecurity workforce make its programs in cybersecurity attractive for students,” says Lance Hoffman, professor and director of the GW Cyber Security Policy and Research Institute. “Since 2002, more than 70 GW students have received full scholarships to study cybersecurity and then work for the government.”


University of Southern CaliforniaMost Directed 

The University of Southern California offers a graduate program in cybersecurity through the Viterbi School of Engineering. The Master of Cyber Security (MCBS) program requires that all students have a computer science, technology, and/or engineering background, as well as a satisfactory GPA and GRE test score. The degree consists of nine courses, all directly focused on cybersecurity. The courses aim to stimulate real-world scenarios with extensive laboratory work designed by current and former information security practitioners. In addition to the degree, “an aggressive research agenda partnered with many companies and governmental agencies enable students and professors to discover and advance new understandings related to cybersecurity,” says Winnie Callahan, Director of Viterbi Informatics Department.


San Jose State UniversityMost Widespread

San Jose State has lofty expectations for its role in cybersecurity professional development. The university expects to become an NSA/NSEE Center of Excellence for Information Assurance in addition to its existing partnership with the National Science Foundation’s TRUST (Team for Research in Ubiquitous Secure Technology). San Jose State has more than 30 faculty members across a wide range of disciplines engaged in the Cybersecurity & Big Data Initiative. The director of this initiative, Sigurd Meldal, says that “research and curriculum development in cybersecurity leverages SJSU’s close ties to Silicon Valley companies, and industry experts in the field are directly involved in framing and teaching cybersecurity courses.” Additionally, SJSU hosts outreach events such as the annual Cyber Challenge Summer Camp and organizes the annual symposium on curriculum development in security and information assurance.


The University of South FloridaBest Program on the Rise

The University of South Florida currently offers a range of cybersecurity courses distributed among the colleges of business, engineering, behavioral and community sciences, and arts and sciences. However, beginning in fall 2014, USF will converge their cybersecurity efforts in an online cybersecurity graduate certificate and master’s degree in four concentrations: cyber intelligence, cyber fundamentals, digital forensics, and information assurance. “USF uniquely offers a systematic program of study in cyber intelligence focused on collecting and assessing information about potential adversaries in the cyber realm,” says Sri Sridharan, managing director for cybersecurity initiatives. “Beginning in spring, students can also take courses to prepare them for the industry-recognized gold-standard CISSP certification exam (Certified Information Systems Security Professional) through a partnership with (ISC)², the largest not-for-profit body of information security professionals.”

Note: Superlatives, noted in green, are inclusive of the group of schools listed in this article only.

Cybersecurity image courtesy of Shutterstock.