FSU-GR Launches Information Intelligence Degree

July 29, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — Ferris State University-Grand Rapids is launching the nation’s first Bachelor of Science in Information Security and Intelligence degree program this fall. Offered within the School of Business, the degree concerns the application of information technology for homeland security, law enforcement, intelligence, defense and a variety of other fields in the public and private sector.

The program is the brainchild of professor Greg Gogolin, who was initially introduced to the need to combine information technology with a background in law enforcement, international business, analysis, cultural studies and communications through his consulting work with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

“I could see the types of things that were needed and began comparing that with what was available at universities,” Gogolin said. “There was quite a disconnect.”

Private and public employers in the security field are seeking individuals with the ability to manipulate data for investigations. While the ability to analyze data technically and creatively is rare enough in the marketplace, there are even fewer professionals with the background needed to apply those skills in search of identify theft, corporate fraud, white-collar and organized crime, terrorist cells, drug trafficking or other concerns.

“In general, it’s the idea of fighting crime using IT, but it’s much more than that,” said Donald Green, vice chancellor and academic dean of FSU-GR. “If this is drug money, you’re looking at laundering and following a money trail. It might be intellectual property, trying to protect against pirates and IP theft, maybe somewhere like China where the laws don’t protect you as well. And then there is terrorism and everything else you’ve got out there.”

Television crime dramas, in particular shows like “CSI” and “Numbers,” have shown the potential of data mining, Geographic Information Systems, risk analysis and computer forensics in corporate and law enforcement applications, but the skills to introduce these uses into reality are not readily available in the marketplace.

Some potential applications include matching registered sex offenders to school bus routes to see where high-risk zones are located; tracking purchases of ephedrine to help locate meth labs or identify potential suspects when labs are discovered; finding hydroponic marijuana farms through energy bills; data mining cell phone records; tracking financial transactions; rooting out fraud and embezzlement; and a wide array of other uses.

Developed in cooperation with the departments of Homeland Security and Defense, FBI, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, private security and intelligence firms and corporate interests, the ISI degree is designed as a marriage of technology and applied backgrounds. Core courses cover information security, data mining, GIS, visual analysis, computer forensics, risk analysis, competitive theory, organized crime, gang and terrorist organizations. Other required subjects include religion, communications, legal and ethical issues, and at least a two-semester proficiency in a foreign language.

“This is unique in that there are a lot more classes than normal from the College of Arts and Sciences,” said Gogolin. “I thought that if someone has a good understanding of what they might be dealing with, they’re going to be in a better position to analyze it and figure it out.”

The major will launch this year with an admissions cap of 20 students. Gogolin emphasized that although the major will likely attract criminal justice students, it is in reality more of a business or technology education.

“Law enforcement is reactive, and this is proactive,” he said. “And there is certainly an economic aspect here. Terrorism, organized crime, piracy, embezzlement — they all have economic aspects.”

With 85 percent of the country’s infrastructure in private hands along with the vast majority of its wealth, corporations are in fact the most likely of targets, Gogolin said.

Thomas Hines, president and CEO of security consulting firm SecureMatrix and president of the Michigan Homeland Security Consortium, said he was pleased to see the interest of educators to address the needs of the security field.

“I’m hoping they take the next step and expand this type of programming to general security, or perhaps something in partnerships with the electronics engineering program,” he said, specifically referring to physical security — that which happens outside of a virtual space. “Physical security is a field in need of some increased professionalism, and to have a broad major for security would be a very nice step.”    

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