Higher Education, Human Resources, and Technology

College concentrates on cybersecurity

February 22, 2017
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GVSU School of Computing and Information Systems student in computer lab
A student in GVSU's School of Computing and Information Systems works in a computer lab. Photo via fb.com

In response to the growing need for data security worldwide, a local college is stepping up its cybersecurity education.

Grand Valley State University said this month it is adding a concentration in cybersecurity to the computing and information systems master’s degree program, as well as increasing cybersecurity courses for undergraduates in related disciplines.

Classes begin this fall.

At the master’s level, the concentration will include one required course in information systems principles and four more courses the students will select as part of their master’s program, including software engineering, privacy, systems security and digital forensics and investigations. 

Paul Plotkowski, dean of the Padnos College of Engineering and Computing, said that while there already are “a limited number” of cybersecurity courses in the existing computing and information systems program for undergraduates, the move will increase opportunities for learning in the field for them and for graduate students.

Testing facility

A new lab that provides hands-on data security experience will complement the concentration and new courses.

The Network and Security Lab, in Mackinac Hall on the Allendale campus, will allow students to simulate fake cyber attacks and learn how to defend against them.

The lab will be equipped with wired, wireless, data-based and Bluetooth technology, as well as a chamber called a “faraday cage,” which blocks electronic signals from leaving or entering the space, so students can safely test data security systems.

“It’s like an aquarium: The water stays in and nothing gets out,” Plotkowski said. “The electronic signals get totally shielded out or in.”

A group of professors helped design and organize the lab: Mostafa El-Said, associate professor and chair of information systems; Vijay Bhuse, assistant professor of computing and information systems; and Andrew Kalafut, associate professor of computing and information systems.

Kalafut said the lab will provide students with critical insights into the minds of cyber attackers.

“In order to know how to successfully defend against a hacker or virus, students must also learn how to attack a system. Students need to see both sides,” Kalafut said.

Need for the program

Plotkowski said locally and nationally, there's "a tremendous need for cybersecurity professionals."

“Our industry partners tell us these professionals need to be strong both theoretically and practically, and it is our hope that the graduates from this program will make an immediate impact on the operations of their future employers,” Plotkowski said.

Paul Leidig, director of the School of Computing and Information Systems, added a focus on data security is needed now more than ever.

“The more reliant on technology and computing we become, the more protection we’ll need from viruses, hackers and other threats,” Leidig said. “Students have expressed an interest in learning more about cybersecurity, so the lab and concentration in the master’s program will provide the opportunity for them to enhance their skills in this area.”

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