A New Focus on Cybersecurity
The department has replaced the two previous tracks with those having more relevance in today's ever-evolving technological landscape -- network and information security (cybersecurity), and software development.
"Previously, the M.S. program was designed primarily for students who had earned a bachelor's degree in computer science," says Lisa Lancor, graduate coordinator for the department. "But we had been getting increased interest from individuals who had bachelor's degrees in other disciplines and wanted to move into the computer field. We have students who majored in music, political science and other disciplines not closely related to computer science. So, we revamped the program to make it more flexible."
Among the changes enacted is the establishment of a single prerequisite course, instead of three such courses. The new prerequisite is a 4-credit course on computer programming and data structures. Students then take 12 core credits, as well as 18 credits in either of the two tracks. Students are then required to pass a capstone, typically a 6-credit thesis.
One of the new courses offered for those engaged in the cybersecurity track is "Ethical Hacking and Penetration Testing." In this course, students learn how to test whether networks are secure and how to enhance that security.
"There is a huge need for individuals who have an expertise in this area," Lancor says. "The number of companies and organizations whose websites are hacked is growing all the time. These companies want to hire individuals who can detect and fix these security issues, but there really is a shortage of such people."
Lancor says that many companies actually hire individuals to try to break into their network system (without causing any damage). The idea is that if they can hack into it, the system needs to be upgraded and fixed. If it can't be hacked, it indicates the system is probably secure, at least at that time.
She notes that cyber attacks are occurring more frequently these days and the hackers are becoming more sophisticated at cybercrime. "As cyber attacks become more sophisticated, demand will increase for workers with security skills."
Lancor points to U.S. Department of Labor projections that indicate employment of network and computer systems administrators (which includes security specialists) is expected to increase by 23 percent from 2008 to 2018. Similarly, the department projects that the number of computer software engineers and computer programmers will rise by 21 percent in that same time period.
She also says that in addition to individual hackers, foreign governments hostile to the United States are more inclined these days to try to wreak havoc with U.S. networks. In fact, The U.S. Department of Defense has increased its allocation for cyber operations by 20 percent in its 2014 budget. Many experts are predicting that future wars and hostilities among nations will include cyber warfare.