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Top U.S. universities failing at cybersecurity education

Sarah K. White | April 25, 2016
Cybercriminals are only getting better at what they do, which means the skills gap is growing between the people who hack and the people who stop them. And universities aren't catching up fast enough.

A growing need for cybersecurity professionals

Cybersecurity is a fast-growing field, which means the number of open positions will quickly outpace the number of qualified candidates entering the workforce. Peninsula Press, a division of the Stanford University Journalism Program, analyzed a 2015 Bureau of Labor Statistics report and found that there are more than 209,000 unfilled cybersecurity jobs in the U.S. alone. The number will only increase. The Peninsula Press also found that in the past five years, listings for cybersecurity roles have jumped 74 percent and that the demand for this role by 2018 is projected to grow 53 percent.

The problem is centered around the fact that cybercriminals are only getting better at what they do each year, meaning the gap between the good guys and the bad guys just grows wider. "Cybercrime is on the rise and the types of attacks we're seeing are becoming more aggressive, sophisticated and dangerous. We've seen this in more frequent and more critical breaches, and there is a trajectory towards attacks on both critical infrastructures and high-profile individuals," says Thomas.

In a report from Cisco on the cybersecurity talent gap, "the sophistication of the technology and tactics used by criminals has outpaced the ability of IT and security professionals to address these threats." That's a dangerous reality, where we have more cybercriminals than cybersecurity professionals, especially with the vast amount of personal data we access and share on our devices.

Most people use their smartphones and computers to access banking accounts, healthcare information, save pictures and share personal data, not to mention the vast number of everyday objects that are now Wi-Fi enabled. It's certainly made life easier, but it's also made everyone more vulnerable to identity theft, hacking and having sensitive data exploited.

Universities are slow to change

It seems like a simple solution -- why don't universities simply start offering more courses in cybersecurity? Unfortunately, the answer isn't that simple. It's not easy to alter a curriculum, especially when you have students who are far along in the program, with new students coming through the door every year.

One anonymous student at a California university spoke with Thomas and told him that "at my university, they [offer] a single elective cybersecurity-related course. I am an electrical engineering major, but I resolved to take this one, single course during my academic career." But in order to take this course, this student was required to declare a computer science minor and make changes to their course limit for graduation. They were told that if they "were truly interested in cybersecurity [they] would change their major from EE to computer science, because security isn't the purview of electrical engineers."


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