Cyber Defenders

Wright State security programs take on hackers and more

Vikram Sethi

Scary reports of computer hacking make headlines almost daily. The tales of woe range from the theft of personal information and credit card numbers to the highly sophisticated infiltration of computer systems to spy on and even sabotage industrial facilities.

One of the most infamous cyber attacks was that of the so-called Stuxnet computer worm in 2009, which destroyed centrifuges that Iran was thought to be using to make nuclear weapons. Stuxnet proved that malicious computer code is not just a threat to data or computer systems; it can be used as a weapon to attack industrial plants.

The possibility that Stuxnet-like worms could be unleashed against oil refineries, nuclear power plants, or even military weapon systems worries Vikram Sethi, Ph.D., director of Wright State’s Institute of Defense Studies and Education (IDSE).

“It’s almost ironic that we built this interconnectivity between industrial control systems and networks in order to make it easy for us to be able to control all this equipment at a remote distance,” he said. “And now, all of a sudden this interconnectivity, which a lot of times is through public networks, becomes a source of weakness because it allows people without authorized access to control them as well.”

The need for cyber defense is fueling a boom in information security jobs. A 2011 market survey report by Frost & Sullivan projected the ranks of information security professionals in the Americas will grow from just over 1 million in 2011 to more than 1.785 million by 2015, and the worldwide job market will grow from 2.28 million to nearly 4.2 million.

Wright State is responding with new certification programs in cyber security—the first of their kind in Ohio. A master’s degree program is also in the planning stages. “Every day, we tweet about cyber attacks, loss of data, loss of privacy,” Sethi said. “Some of them are individual efforts, some of them really are state-sponsored efforts, yet they are more cohesive, they are more connected at targeting either certain agencies or organizations, and they keep increasing in complexity and frequency of attack.”

While the need for cyber security is growing, few information technology professionals are trained to meet it, Sethi said. Cyber security professionals typically migrate from the fields of information systems or computer science without the benefit of a structured educational program. “That’s what prompted us to begin offering these programs,” he said.

Beginning in March, IDSE will offer two, six-month certification programs in cyber security. The fundamentals certificate in cyber security prepares students to take four certification exams. The advanced certificate in cyber security builds on the Fundamentals Certificate and provides accelerated training. It also prepares students to complete the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) certification.

Sethi said IDSE would offer the programs jointly with the Center for Professional Education. The bulk of the curricula will be the same, but some IDSE courses tailored for the military will include classified content. IDSE works closely with Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, located nearby, to help it meet its training needs.

A key feature of the programs is that they prepare students for several certifications, Sethi said. “You don’t have an option of taking just one because that is just not what we see in a cyber security professional. We don’t want them to become one-dimensional and focus on a single exam, but really learn the wider body of what cyber security is about.”

Another program is training for secure software development—designing security into the software instead of adding security patches later. “The new battlefield is the cyber security battlefield. Having people who know how to write secure software is incredibly important,” said Ed Adams, chief executive officer of Wilmington, Mass.–based Security Innovation (SI). IDSE worked with SI to develop its secure software certification program, which students can take online. Adams said the program puts Wright State in the forefront of cyber security education.

Sethi said Wright State’s programs would make the Dayton area one of a few regions in the country with professional cyber security training programs. The idea is still new, and only a few universities around the country have begun to offer
such programs.

“One of the wonderful things Dayton offers us is such close proximity to Wright-Patterson, to the Air Force Institute of Technology located on the base, and to other groups within the base who have a lot of knowledge in this field. There is actually a very rich pool of people who have very specialized skills,” Sethi said.

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