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The University of Akron to offer cybersecurity degree

From left, Scott Randby, John B. Nicholas and Stanley H. Smith, co-founders of The University of Akron's new cybersecurity degree, pose in front of one of their server racks at the university. (Photo by Richard Weiner/Legal News)

RICHARD WEINER
Legal News Reporters

Published: July 5, 2017

Eying a worldwide explosion in job opportunities over the next decades, The University of Akron has announced that it will begin offering a four-year bachelor’s degree and major in cybersecurity. The profession concentrates on diminishing the threat to data systems from hackers.

The major should be available for students beginning in the upcoming fall semester, said the university’s John B. Nicholas, professor of computer information systems and one of the three progenitors of the new degree.

The degree will be rare among Ohio public universities, said Nichols. Cybersecurity firm Digital Guardian lists fewer than 100 such university programs worldwide.

“Students completing this degree will have a good foundation in computer networking, forensics and fighting cybercrime,” Nicholas said.

The cybersecurity industry is ready he said.

“This is an excellent idea. There is a huge demand right now,” said Brett Kimmell, owner of the West Akron’s Kimmell Cybersecurity, an outfit that has worked with numerous local law firms in their need for data security. “We are looking for cybersecurity employees right now.” Kimmell has been asked to serve on the program’s advisory board.

The program may be coming at just the right time.

According to a recent survey of 19,000 cybersecurity professionals by the nonprofit ISC(2), there will be 1.8 million of these jobs by 2022, and there is a major shortage in the field.

Only 7 percent of these jobs are currently held by people under the age of 29, and only another 13 percent between 30-34, according to the survey.

The average age of cybersecurity professionals is 42. The U.S. Department of Labor also projects a sharp increase—up to 18 percent––in available cybersecurity positions going forward and shows currently a 2 percent unemployment rate in the profession.

The other two founders of the new major, besides Nichols, are Scott Randby, who brings his professorship in mathematics to the table, and computer forensics specialist, visiting professor Stanley H. Smith, a former Akron police officer and current lab rat.

All three professors acknowledged that this major will not be easy, but the market demands a complex set of skills, a feeling echoed by Kimmell.

“Cybersecurity involves a huge set of skills,” said Kimmell. “It is difficult to find someone with the entire skill set, so this degree is a great asset for northeast Ohio.”

Kimmell said that if he could narrow it down to one complete set it would be “someone who understands the nature of the threats, the vulnerabilities and how they can be exploited, can be trained to defend them.”

“We’re very excited to see a program like this be available in the Northeast Ohio region. Training students in such a rapidly growing and field is important and will help the continued expansion of the cybersecurity industry right here at home,” added Added Joseph Marquette, founder and CEO of Cleveland’s Accellis computer security firm.

The new Akron program has been in development for a while.

“The three of us began to develop this idea about five years ago,” said Nicholas.

The three professors have developed a cross-discipline set of courses for the major, using both currently offered classes and six new ones to compose the degree requirements.

“It is built on top of two degree programs that are already in place,” he said.

Class work in the degree will include computer network configuration, computer network and data security, network intrusion prevention and detection, computer networking forensics and digital forensics, “ethical hacking,” and encryption.

Several universities around the country have cybersecurity classes, but Akron’s new program will emphasize deep dives into areas that are not always taught, said Randby, particularly in the math arena.

“Most cybersecurity degrees in existence have minimal math requirements,” he said. At the same time, he said, even offering a collegiate cryptography class is rare.

“We will have three classes that emphasize cryptography and cryptanalysis. Math is the basis of those studies,” said Randby.

Smith brings a lifetime background in law enforcement with access to a truly state-of-the-art computer lab.

In fact, Smith said, he is already performing forensics work for the Akron Police Department and other law enforcement entities.

“Our lab mirrors what BCI (Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation computer forensics lab in Youngstown) does,” said Smith. The lab is filled with the latest in testing equipment and about 30 of some of the most powerful personal computers available.

Looking at this burgeoning field, Marquette strikes a note of both optimism and caution.

“Cybersecurity is a rapidly changing field that will challenge schools everywhere if they are to remain current with the tools and techniques being employed across the globe,” he said. ”Unlike accounting, finance and even engineering – this field of study must constantly evolve and adapt if students are to graduate with the skills and knowledge they will need to succeed.”

The new degree has been approved by the school’s board of trustees, said Nichols, and is open to both incoming students and people who already work in the field.

More information about the cybersecurity degree is available at www.uakron.edu/cybersecurity.


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