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CSUSM Program Prepares Future Cybersecurity Professionals

By Eric Breier

Scanning U.S. News and World Report’s 2016 list of the “100 Best Jobs,” it doesn’t take long to find information security analyst, which comes in at No. 34 overall.

With cyberattacks seemingly in the headlines on a daily basis, it’s no surprise that cybersecurity workers are in demand.

From 2005 through Aug. 25 of this year, the Identity Theft Resource Center reports that there were nearly 6,500 breaches impacting almost 900 million records. The total number of U.S. breaches in 2015 was 781, the second highest total on record since the ITRC began tracking the numbers in 2005.

Identity theft breaches are just one type of cybercrime; others include financial fraud, intellectual property theft, denial of service and hacking.

Cal State San Marcos is helping to fill a critical need by training the next generation of cybersecurity professionals.

Now in its second year, CSUSM’s Professional Science Master’s Degree in Cybersecurity is one of four in the nation accredited through the National Professional Science Master’s Association. A differentiating factor with PSM degrees is the focus on both the technical and management side of cybersecurity initiatives. As such, both CSUSM’s College of Science and Mathematics and College of Business Administration provide selected courses for students.

“We believe our program better equips our students to take on leadership roles in cybersecurity within their organizations,” said Teresa Macklin, interim director of CSUSM’s cybersecurity program and the University’s chief information security officer and associate dean for technology infrastructure.

“It is becoming increasingly important for IT professionals to be able to advise, counsel and communicate effectively with their organization on cyber issues, threats and vulnerabilities. We designed this program to provide them with the information and resources to lead their organizations’ effort to secure their technologies and operations.”

October provides a good reminder of the importance of cybersecurity as it is National Cyber Security Awareness Month, an annual campaign through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to raise awareness about cybersecurity.

Here are five tips from CSUSM’s cybersecurity program to cyber-protect yourself or your business:

  1. Back up your data – and do so regularly.
  2. Understand the value of what you need to protect. Is it the plans for the new rocket motor? Your family photo collection? Your client/customer personal information? This helps you determine the measures you should – and those you must – take to protect those assets.
  3. Practice safe browsing. Don’t accept “certificate errors.” These are not normal. Each time you enter a password, check to be sure you are using an encrypted session (https://site or the lock symbol, etc.).
  4. Don’t reuse passwords. If one site is breached, the hackers will try your email or username and password on other sites. You are at risk if you are using the same password in multiple places. Get a password manager program if necessary (examples include LastPass and OnePass).
  5. Make sure your computer is protected with current operating system and application updates along with an anti-malware application.

CSUSM’s cybersecurity program is geared toward working professionals by offering evening classes and can be completed in less than two years. Curriculum focuses on cyber-threat prevention and IT security management, rather than threat detection. Although students don't need to have a cybersecurity background, they do need a computer science or technology-related degree (or experience) in order to qualify.

The goal of the program is to educate and train an expertly skilled workforce to fill the needs of a rapidly growing industry. Job outlook growth for information security analysts is expected to increase by 18 percent from 2014-2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). That rate growth is expected to create 14,800 new jobs by 2024. By comparison, the growth for all occupations is projected at 7 percent for that same time frame.

And, according to the BLS, the median pay for information security analysts was $90,120 per year in 2015, nearly triple the median annual wage for all workers.

In conjunction with the San Diego Cyber Center of Excellence, the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation and a cyber industry advisory council, CSUSM has identified key areas of focus in its curriculum. The 13 courses that are part of the program will prepare students to:

  • adapt to changes and analyze and solve problems;
  • conduct risk analyses for implementing information security solutions;
  • assess and put security decisions into operation;
  • analyze and choose technology and/or operational solutions in relation to security;
  • understand security software development models;
  • evaluate and select encryption algorithms;
  • perform offensive security;
  • perform vulnerability assessments of networks, systems and software; and
  • perform intrusion detection and incident response activities

One of the unique aspects of CSUSM’s master’s in cybersecurity is its Semester-In-Residence (SIR) program, which provides students an opportunity to apply their training and knowledge to address a real-world issue or project. The SIR program also allows companies that might not have the necessary expertise for a project to tap into the knowledge of CSUSM’s cybersecurity students and professors.

The SIR program is structured similar to an internship and is done in lieu of a master’s thesis. It requires about 300 hours of project work over 15 weeks. There are dozens of examples of potential cybersecurity SIR projects, everything from evaluating and identifying gaps in an organization’s overall information security program to creating a risk-assessment model.

Visit CSUSM’s Professional Science Master’s Degree in Cybersecurity program website for more information.