Recognizing the need to secure the infrastructure of the United States, the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security co-sponsor Centers for Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense (CAE-CD). The aim of the program is to ensure cyber defense professionals graduate from institutions of higher education with exceptional theoretical and hands-on experience in cybersecurity. After a rigorous review process, the University’s B.S. in computer science with a minor in cybersecurity was recently designated a CAE-CD.
To qualify as a CAE-CD, a program of study must demonstrate excellence in several key areas. A multidisciplinary approach including cybersecurity curriculum across disciplines is crucial, as is a robust and active cybersecurity center with a strong outreach component. At the heart of the designation process, though, is an evaluation of “knowledge units” or specific curricular targets. Altogether, 22 knowledge units are required with a combined 250-plus specific criteria. These KUs are taught in courses that may not even have cybersecurity as a direct emphasis, but their inclusion throughout the curriculum demonstrates a broad commitment to cyber defense.
“The designation is a recognition of the program that we have put in place over the years,” Lecturer and Deputy Director of the Cybersecurity Center Nancy LaTourrette said. “It has been a department-wide effort, but it is more than that. It required the support of faculty in eight disciplines across campus, as well as strong support from University administration.”
Cybersecurity Center and the importance of diversity of thought
One of the criteria on which cyber defense education programs is judged is the strength of its cybersecurity center. With a growing list of research and a continuing tradition of community involvement through events like the annual cybersecurity conference, the University’s Cybersecurity Center has acted like a magnet for interested parties and agencies, both within the University and throughout the larger cybersecurity community.
Director of the Cybersecurity Center Shamik Sengupta said, “Faculty from across campus come together under the umbrella of the Cybersecurity Center. We are not just one or two disciplines. We are truly multidisciplinary. Our members come from eight different disciplines and at this time include more than 30 faculty members.”
Cybersecurity Center faculty represent disciplines from computer science, electrical engineering, history, journalism, criminal justice, political science, psychology and information systems. Their perspectives provide an enhanced ability to approach problems from novel angles, which has resulted in a number of ongoing interdisciplinary research projects.
Of the multidisciplinary nature of the Cybersecurity Center and the cyber defense education on campus, LaTourrette said, “It used to be that cybersecurity was viewed as a strictly technical concern. Putting up firewalls, for instance, to protect data. But not anymore. For example, many breaches are the result of social engineering, such as phishing. So, organizations need to bring in psychologists to help establish effective training programs. With the advent of data privacy laws we need public policy experts, attorneys, and ethicists. A strong cybersecurity program really needs personnel from many disciplines. We need diversity of thought.”
The Nevada Cyber Club and increased opportunities for students
To achieve CAE-CD status, the program had to demonstrate existing robust opportunities for students to engage with the material. In addition to the coursework and events through the Cybersecurity Center, under the leadership of Bill Doherty and with additional support from the College of Business, the Nevada Cyber Club plays an important role in giving students hands-on experience with the principles under consideration. Through events like the National Cyber League Competition, students gain experience in nine essential cybersecurity workforce categories: open source intelligence, cryptography, password cracking, log analysis, network traffic analysis, wireless access and web app exploitations, scanning and enumeration.
“The Cyber Club engaging students outside of the classroom really helped put the pieces together,” LaTourrette said.
While the CAE-CD designation is a validation of the strength of the program and the infrastructure around it, like the Cybersecurity Center and the Nevada Cyber Club, it will also open doors for students. By studying in a CAE-CD designated program, students will have the ability to apply for scholarships and research funding and opportunities that would otherwise be unavailable to them.
“When students look to programs to apply to, they ask if we are a CAE organization,” Sengupta said. “The designation is a testament to the strength of the faculty, administration and program. It is very prestigious.”
College of Engineering Dean Manos Maragakis added, “The faculty in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering continue to build on a rich tradition of excellence. Their commitment to the success of their students and to performing groundbreaking, multidisciplinary research is vital for the safety of our country and the integrity of the cyber infrastructure that is crucial in every facet of modern life. We are proud of their effort, which has culminated in this important recognition of their achievements. Congratulations to them and all the faculty from across campus that participate in the Center.”