Dec 23 2014

Sony Hack Draws World's Attention to U.S. Cybersecurity Readiness

Are higher education institutions equipped to train the next generation of U.S. cybersecurity experts?

Earlier this month, the world's attention turned to Sony Pictures Entertainment as it endured a very public cybersecurity breach, resulting in company executives’ private emails and personal information being released to the public. Hackers also threatened employees and their families.

The company ultimately canceled the release of the multimillion-dollar comedy The Interview after nationwide theater chains refused to screen it, according to The New York Times. The party responsible for the attack calls itself the Guardians of Peace, and the FBI claims the breach can be linked to North Korea.

The attack reinforces the notion that a cybersecurity storm is coming, and the U.S. may not be prepared, according to a Dec. 10 article in FedTech.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a massive shortage in the IT workforce by 2020: There will be 1.4 million openings but only 400,000 computer science graduates with the necessary skills to fill the positions.

Congress recently took steps to expand the nation's cyberdefenses through five major cybersecurity bills, which were signed into law by President Barack Obama on Dec. 18. The signing of the bills represents the first time in 12 years that significant cybersecurity legislation has become law, according to GovInfoSecurity.

Among these, the Cybersecurity Enhancement Act of 2014 authorizes the National Institute of Standards and Technology to support education programs for cybersecurity.

Higher education continues to be a place of recruitment of cybersecurity employees. In November, the Department of Homeland Security announced it would expand its internship program in 2015. An estimated 300,000 cybersecurity jobs remain unfilled 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.

That demand led Dakota State University, in Madison, S.D., to create a doctorate degree in cybersecurity; the program is set to begin in spring 2015. Hundreds of cybersecurity programs are offered by higher education institutions, according to the Poneman Institute’s 2014 Best Schools for Cybersecurity report. But a doctoral approach appears to be a fresh take on the specialization.

But a more dramatic focus on the field may still be necessary.

In a Dec. 22 column, USA Today contributor and adjunct professor Sam Hudgins wrote that, with cybersecurity tensions being raised across the world, the "battles of the future will be fought across digital mediums and universities will be the boot camps of the future."