Newswise — Cybersecurity is one of the fastest-growing fields, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It's projected to expand 28 percent from 2016 to 2026. (For comparison, the typical occupation is expected to grow just 7 percent in the same period.)
That means the information security field will need plenty of educated, prepared employees. Some of those workers are being shaped right now by computer science and information data faculty at campuses across the California State University.
"[Cybersecurity] is a massive umbrella buzzword for all areas related to making computers and the Internet safer and more secure for businesses, government and consumers," explains Bryan Dixon, Ph.D., assistant professor of computer science at California State University, Chico.
Since so many devices can now be connected to the Web, we need to protect ourselves no matter where we are, continues Dr. Dixon. "All computers and smart devices are vulnerable. If it's connected to the Internet, it can be exploited," he says. "It's just a matter of time and whether it's worth the effort to the malicious party."
Since we're all connected digitally in one way or another, that makes information security relevant — even vital — to nearly every single person with an Internet connection.
"Today, no individual on this planet living in a modern society can live without some form of cybersecurity protecting his or her personal information, transactions, movements or social interactions," says Marina Mondin, Ph.D., associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at California State University, Los Angeles.
And that means, too, that nearly every company and organization will need someone — and perhaps a team of experts — who understands these threats and how to protect a business from attacks, she adds.
Cybersecurity experts "identify weaknesses in networks, software, computers, and devices," explains Dixon. "They also train the workforce on how to stay safe and best practices on what not to do to protect homes and businesses."
Career-Ready Cybersecurity Experts
Not only is there a big demand for skilled cybersecurity employees, there's also a huge shortage.
It's one that will likely only get bigger: By 2022, there's expected to be a gap of 1.8 million information security workers, according to the 2017 Global Information Security Workforce Study.
Not so long ago, cybersecurity was the domain of science and engineering. Today, it folds in science, engineering, business, public policy, intelligence and criminal justice, making it an interdisciplinary area, says Tony Coulson, Ph.D., professor of information and decision sciences at California State University, San Bernardino and director of the campus' Cyber Security Center.
"According to a study by Corps Information Systems Control Officer, or CISCO, we need one million cyber experts," Dr. Coulson says.
"That is an absurd number. If we said we were short one million police or firefighters, it would be a national crisis. In cyber, it is [a crisis]. The economy is based on e-commerce and there are just so many vulnerabilities."
What Does a Cybersecurity Expert Do?
If you decide to become a cybersecurity expert, your job won't only be defending against attacks by, say, keeping security programs up-to-date to make it as difficult as possible for a system to be exploited. You'll also need to stay current on rapidly changing hacking trends and techniques.
"Broadly speaking, cybersecurity refers to protecting computer systems and their data against theft, damage, and misuse," explains Mikhail Gofman, Ph.D., associate professor of computer science at California State University, Fullerton and director of the campus' Center for Cybersecurity.
That means focusing efforts on both offensive and defensive security, Dr. Gofman points out. "In order to successfully compromise a system, attackers have to find and successfully exploit only one vulnerability. One successful attack is enough for them to win."
"In order to successfully protect the system, all attacks have to successfully be stopped," he continues. "So, the job of the defenders — cybersecurity experts — is much more challenging. Ninety-nine percent success is simply not enough."
Cybersecurity Programs at the CSU
The CSU offers a number of cybersecurity degree, certificate and course options. Select campuses offer advanced cryptography, information sciences and network security courses.
CSU Fullerton gives students the chance to experiment with live malware, cyberattacks and defenses in a safe environment, through a collaboration with MultiX.
On the CSU San Bernardino campus, the NICE Challenges system similarly "provides a means for cyber students to test their skills and demonstrate their ability to think like the adversary (such as hackers)," says Dr. Tony Coulson, director of the Cyber Security Center at CSU San Bernardino. "We give the students the workforce experience before the workforce."