Cybersecurity experts wanted

New worries about national cybersecurity are prompting government officials to press colleges for rigorous curricula that train future cyberprotectors.

More educational programs, and up-to-date classes that adapt quickly to new needs in cybersecurity, were among suggestions at a hearing in the House Science Committee Wednesday. Sherwood Boehlert (R-New York) chaired the discussion just before release of the 9/11 Commission's report.

Charles McQueary, undersecretary of science and technology for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, has repeatedly lobbied for more money to train cyberexperts.

Current efforts

Threats develop and change at "Internet speed," Chet Hosmer, president of Wetstone Technologies, a cybersecurity research development company, told the hearing. He said it is essential that higher-education curricula be able to adapt quickly to produce security experts who can deal with changing threats.

Many Wetstone employees also teach at local New York community colleges and larger universities, including Utica College of Syracuse University, Hosmer added.

He pointed to criminal-justice programs as an example of how rigidity within higher-education curricula creates fragmented cybersecurity training programs.

"Unfortunately, most criminal-justice university programs are offered out of the social science departments at universities, (whereas) computer science is a hard science, out of math or computer science departments," Hosmer said. "Building programs that cross domains is quite difficult for many reasons, and the student typically lacks depth in either area and is ill-prepared for (work in) digital investigation after graduation." Wetstone offers internships that help students engage in practical application of the theories they learn in school, he added.

The focus on practical skills promoted by most community colleges puts such institutions in a perfect position to tackle cybersecurity education, said Erich Spengler, an associate professor at Morain Valley Community College in Illinois and director of the regional center for systems and information assurance.

Spengler said 44 percent of the country's undergraduate students -- about 10.4 million people -- attend technical or community colleges. Those institutions rely heavily on local business and industry to foster learning within the classroom and to serve as potential employers after graduation, he added.

Military training

Second Lieutenant David Aparicio testified on behalf of the Air Force and as class valedictorian of the Advanced Course of Engineering on Cybersecurity. The program is designed to meet the recommendations of the National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace, an initiative promoting cybersecurity education in government, academia, and industry.

"ACE taught me not only technical competence but mental flexibility to solve any problem placed in front of me - academic or critical," Aparicio said. The intense ten-week program involved weekly all-day lectures, and then the students had to solve real-world problems. The 14 students were mentored on military and industry projects, creating a holistic awareness of real threats lurking in the cyberworld, according to Aparicio.

"I plan to eventually work for the Central Intelligence Agency or the National Security Agency with my new view of the world," Aparicio said.

Boehlert said the success of ACE and the demand for ACE graduates is visible in the decision to double the enrollment this summer, to 28 students.

Hosmer told the committee that while educational endeavors are crucial, the training doesn't end on graduation day.

"Every week we get requests from (industry workers) who want to get trained by us," Hosmer said. "They are often paying for the training out of their own pocket and are taking vacation time to do it," he said, emphasizing the recognized market demand for cybersecurity training.

Emily Kumler writes for the Medill News Service.

This story, "Cybersecurity experts wanted" was originally published by PCWorld.

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