Nov 25 2014

A Cybersecurity Ph.D. May Be Just What’s Needed for the Future of Higher Ed

The next generation of IT experts will have their pick of several job opportunities.

A growing demand for cybersecurity experts is driving Dakota State University in Madison, S.D., to offer a doctoral degree in cybersecurity.

The doctorate of science in cybersecurity, with a foundation in computer science and an emphasis on applied research in cybersecurity, will begin in the spring 2015 semester, according to a Nov. 18 news release from DSU.

“Graduates will be prepared to focus on technologies and techniques related to specialized cyber operations activities, including data collection, software exploitation, analysis of malicious code, and reverse engineering,” the release says.

Master’s programs for cybersecurity are plentiful, but a doctoral one in the field isn’t commonplace. When DSU began research for the program, Pat Engebretson, an assistant professor in the College of Business and Information Systems, says they found other doctoral programs, but none like the one they had planned.

"Given our marriage between traditional computer science and deep level technical security, including topics in software exploitation, reverse engineering and malware analysis — we found this to be a totally unique degree," says Engebretson.

Those who who complete the university’s cybersecurity doctoral program will have vast career opportunities. There are an estimated 300,000 unfilled cybersecurity jobs in the U.S., according to Symantec, which in June launched the Cyber Career Connection initiative to help close that workforce gap.

“Demand for cybersecurity professionals is expected to increase as the private sector faces unprecedented numbers of data breaches and cybersecurity threats,” according to Symantec’s news release about the initiative.

Cybersecurity openings are on the rise, as are all computer-science-related jobs. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics projects there will be 1.4 million IT jobs in 2020, though only 400,000 computer science graduates with the necessary skills to fill the positions.

Interest in the field is also on the uptick with students. In the fall, an introductory computer science course at Harvard broke the school's enrollment records, drawing 819 undergraduates — nearly 12 percent of the student body.

The growing demand for cybersecurity experts has spread beyond higher education. For much of the past decade, U.S. government agencies have been recruiting the next generation of cybersecurity experts through competitions. The Department of Defense’s DC3 Digital Forensics Challenge and the Council on Cybersecurity’s U.S. Cyber Challenge bring students together to test their skills and develop the talent that will protect the country’s systems in the future.

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