Thursday, January 17th, 2019

Cybersecurity Degree Launched in UMaine System

Patrick Higgins

Posted on September 21, 2015 in News
By USM Free Press

Patrick Higgins

By Cody Marcroft, Free Press Staff


This fall, the University of Maine System is offering, for the first time, a Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity.

The establishment of the major was two years in the making, according to Raymond Albert, professor of Computer Science at the University of Maine Fort Kent and project leader of the degree initiative. Multiple UMS campuses combined resources to ensure it could provide an adequate Cybersecurity education.

A pivotal role in getting the degree approved by the UMS involved establishing credibility with the National Security Agency (NSA) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) before becoming approved by the academic governance body at each participating UMS campus, and lastly the board of trustees.

Meeting NSA/DHS standards was, “more challenging to a certain degree,” than any other step in the process, said Albert. It entailed identifying courses that aligned with the NSA/DHS requirements for learning outcomes, lab facilities and other resources, as well as collaborations with outside agencies and universities.

The UMS was certified by the NSA/DHS as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance and Cybersecurity in the fall of 2014. The degree was subsequently approved by UMS officials for the fall 2015 semester.

The curriculum includes courses in IT, networking, computer programming, as well as philosophy and ethics.

“If you think about Cybersecurity, you see everyone’s network traffic. What are the ethics around that?” posed Edward Sihler, assistant director of the Maine Cyber Security Cluster (MCSC).

Online courses will be utilized to bring students together from participating UMS campuses. For example, a class of seven students at UMA might meet in-class with a professor, while the professor simultaneously teaches the course online to a few students at USM and UMFK. That way, classes will be appropriately filled and students on campuses with lower enrollment won’t be delayed in their degree progress while waiting for a particular course to become available locally.

Currently, the major is offered at UMA, UMFK and USM. Eventually, Albert hopes to expand the major to other UMS campuses.

“There will be others we’re expecting down the road. Perhaps the University of Maine [Orono] and Farmington,” said Albert.

Maine Cyber Security Cluster

Lab experience is necessary for any field of science. Cybersecurity, a subset of Computer Science, is no exception. The three-year-old MCSC, which has a lab on the USM campus, has been and will continue to be an important asset to the degree program.

“We are, if you will, a center of research; a point of external activity,” said Sihler. “We act in support of the [Bachelor of Science] in Cyber Security.”

Last fall, the MCSC used grants from the National Science Foundation and Maine Technology Institute to build a new research lab. The following spring, groups of students from USM, UMFK and York Community College completed simulated exercises together, where they tackled various Cybersecurity-related problems. Two more exercises will take place this semester.

“It provides an excellent opportunity to engage our students,” said Albert. “They can work with things they normally wouldn’t have access to in a public computer lab.”

Are you safe online?

Recent breaches of privacy have raised concern among the public about the threat of cyber attacks. In December 2013, 110 million customers of Target had their information compromised. In July, Ashley Madison, an online dating service geared toward married people seeking affairs, was hacked. In August, the hackers released users’ information to the public.

How safe do people feel when browsing the Internet? Is there anything that individuals can do to avoid being hacked?

“If you order things online, like textbooks, I think it’s important to make sure the site is secured,” said Tristen Jordan, a general management student at USM. “They’ll have those symbols, which show that your information is encrypted in different ways. If I buy things online I try to make sure to use those websites.”

Other students are more trusting, and less mindful about the prospect of an attack.

“I know there’s always a possibility of my information being taken, but I like to trust the people [running the website] are taking the precautions to protect my information,” said Courtney Bowers, a sophomore biology student.

Some are not concerned at all.

“I understand identity theft, but what good are hackers going to do with my information? There’s no secret that I’m safeguarding,” said Daniel Morrissette, a junior nursing major.

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