A Degree of Security in Cyber Space

March 19, 2012

New master’s in cybersecurity—one of just a few nationwide—aims to fill growing need to shield against attacks.

A new graduate degree program in cybersecurity, launching this fall, will seek to meet the rapidly increasing global demand for experts able to confront the growing threat of cyber crime.

The degree, a computer science-oriented master’s of science in cybersecurity, will be the first of its kind in D.C., and one of only a handful of graduate degrees in cybersecurity offered among top U.S. universities, according to Abdou Youssef, chairman of the Department of Computer Science.

“The Internet has provided all of us with unprecedented access and the ability to connect, share and conduct commerce in our pajamas from our bedrooms,” said Dr. Youssef. The price of that access, however, has been added risk, he said—to privacy, to intellectual property, to national security and critical infrastructure, and to the global economy.

“The country and the world are in dire need for cybersecurity experts to protect them from those risks and defend them against cyber attacks,” he said.

It’s a concern that experts at some of the highest levels have been voicing recently as well.

“There isn’t a corporation in the nation that can successfully defend itself, not one,” former Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell said at a panel event last month, hosted by GW’s Homeland Security Policy Institute. “The most sophisticated among those who would protect themselves have been penetrated, to the point of capturing source code or business plans, or innovation, or research and development. Every one of them.”

And last fall, at an event co-sponsored by GW’s Cyber Security Policy and Research Institute, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said cyber attacks “are increasing in frequency, in complexity and in consequence.” Asked how many serious cyber crimes had probably occurred in the United States during her 45 minutes or so on-stage, she said: “Thousands.”

“SEAS understands the crucial need to educate experts in cybersecurity,” said the school’s dean, David Dolling. The new program is designed to graduate students with “both the technical skills to address core cybersecurity issues and the ability to approach cybersecurity with a systems management mindset,” he said.

The university, which is a federally-designated Center of Academic Excellence in information assurance education and research, began accepting applications for the program last week.

The program provides core knowledge of cybersecurity and of computer science as it relates to cybersecurity. In addition to the required courses—covering, for instance, algorithms and applied cryptography—the program offers a lot of room for individual customization.

“We left the door wide open,” said Dr. Youssef.

Through electives, students will be able to choose a path of study that emphasizes more technical computer science aspects of security, and standard computer science courses like networks and databases. But also available will be cybersecurity-related courses offered across the university in areas including forensics, law, policy, and security systems management. There also are thesis and non-thesis options.

All of the degree-related courses from the Department of Computer Science will be offered by night and many by day in Foggy Bottom, making the program accessible to part-time students, said Dr. Youssef. Students also will be able to complete the degree from GW’s Virginia Science and Technology Campus, albeit with fewer course choices.

To learn more: Prospective students can fill out an interest form to receive more information on the program. Also, the computer science department will be holding an information session Thursday, March 22, on the Foggy Bottom Campus.

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