Defense Against the Dark Arts

Expanding cybersecurity education to fill the talent gap


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    A student learns about cybersecurity at the NW Cyber Camp hosted at Oregon State University.

Newswise — There are two good reasons to study cybersecurity, according to Zander Work, a computer science student at Oregon State University.

The first reason? Opportunity.

“There are a lot of jobs available right now,” Work said.

He’s right. By the time Work enters the job market in 2022, the shortage of cybersecurity professionals is predicted to be 1.8 million, according to the International Information System Security Certification Consortium.

The second reason? It’s fun.

“I find it super interesting. It’s exciting and fast paced, so I learn new things every day,” he said.

Although the speed of change makes cybersecurity interesting, it also makes it dangerous. Attacks are numerous and varied. Recent examples include the ransoming of Atlanta’s online government services this past spring and the 2017 Equifax breach, which exposed the personal data of 148 million Americans.

In response to these types of threats, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown in 2017 signed into law Senate Bill 90, establishing the Oregon Cybersecurity Advisory Council to oversee the formation of the Cybersecurity Center of Excellence. The center is a statewide collaboration with Oregon’s cyberrelated industries: private sector security practitioners, educational institutions, law enforcement, and local governments. Rakesh Bobba, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering in the College of Engineering, is a member of the council.

Bobba has been leading initiatives in cybersecurity research and education since he arrived at Oregon State four years ago. He was instrumental in securing $1.5 million from the U.S. Department of Energy as part of a consortium of 11 universities to help protect the nation’s electric grid from cyber threats.

Bobba also has been developing educational opportunities to establish Oregon State as a leader in educating cybersecurity students at every level.

“Cybersecurity is really growing at Oregon State, and I’m excited about the impact we will have for students, whether they are undergraduates, graduate students, high school students, professionals, or the general public,” Bobba said.

Strong connections with cybersecurity professionals and hands-on experiences are pillars of the educational programs. The first cybersecurity class — named “Defense Against the Dark Arts,” after a class in the Harry Potter book series — is a collaboration with McAfee in which the company’s field experts present most of the lectures.

That course is one of 10 cybersecurity classes available to undergraduates seeking a degree specialized in cybersecurity. An online version is available to students in the Ecampus postbaccalaureate program. Expanding cybersecurity offerings for Ecampus students has been a priority for Bobba, and by 2019, they will be able to specialize in the field when more courses are available online.

Outside of classes, students can participate in the OSU Security Club. The club facilitates interactions with industry professionals and participates in competitions. This year, a team of six students, including Work, won first place in the Pacific Northwest region of the Department of Energy’s Cyber Defense Competition. The team placed fourth nationally.

There are also opportunities for students to work in cybersecurity on campus. Emily Longman, a senior in computer science, got a job at the university’s Office of Information Security in 2015. The position inspired her to specialize in cybersecurity.

“I like that every day on the job there is a new challenge,” Longman said.

Bobba hopes to provide more students with the kind of handson experience that Longman is getting. He is working with Dave Nevin, chief information security officer for the Office of Information Security, to develop an internship program for all cybersecurity undergraduates.

This summer, Bobba and Work collaborated with the Oregon State STEM Academy to bring the NW Cyber Camp for high school students to Oregon State. In addition to hands-on training, the camp offered interaction with cybersecurity specialists from industry, including NuScale Power, McAfee, Splunk, NetSPI, Cylance, and PKI Solutions.

In order to support and partner with Portland technology companies and foster more expertise in cybersecurity, Oregon State is launching a certificate program for industry professionals at its Portland campus in spring 2019. The courses will be a combination of online and inperson instruction.

“Cyberattacks are among the biggest threats we face in Oregon and the nation right now,” Bobba said. “I see it as our responsibility at Oregon State to help address this threat. We do that through advancing research in cybersecurity; however, it is also critical to educate people at all levels to meet the future challenges of cybersecurity.” 

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