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GVSU enhances cybersecurity training for graduate students

BY Sunday, February 19, 2017 01:27pm

Citing increasing public awareness resulting from high-profile incidents, Grand Valley State University plans to place greater emphasis on cybersecurity training.

Beginning this fall, graduate students at GVSU’s Padnos College of Engineering and Computing can concentrate on cybersecurity with their master’s degree in computing and information systems. New courses for undergraduate and graduate students at the Padnos College will cover issues such as software engineering, privacy, systems security, and digital forensics and investigations.

“Locally and nationally, there is a tremendous need for cybersecurity professionals,” said Paul Plotkowski, dean of the Padnos College. “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.”

[RELATED:  Cybersecurity for Manufacturers Video/Download]

GVSU also plans to open a Network and Security Lab at the Allendale campus so students can simulate hacks and cyber attacks and formulate a defense.

Padnos College professors designed the lab to provide students insight into how hackers think and operate.

“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,” said Andrew Kalafut, an associate professor of computing and information systems at the Padnos College. 

GVSU’s Padnos College has long embedded cybersecurity into its curriculum, said Paul Leidig, a professor and director of the school of computing and information systems.

As public awareness of cybersecurity threats grew the last few years — driven by incidents ranging from the 2013 hacking of Target Corp. during the holiday shopping season, to Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election — the college decided to create the master’s concentration and elevate its programming, Leidig said.

Padnos College students today are more interested in the cybersecurity field and employers increasingly need graduates trained in security to protect their data and systems, he said. Cybersecurity has become one of the hottest niches in the field, Leidig said.

“It’s finally got the attention it deserves. Now people are interested,” he said. “The fever pitch for expertise has kind of hit an all-time high.

“It’s not something of ‘why did we do this,’ but ‘how could we not.’”


The cybersecurity concentration in the graduate degree will give students the skills to go to work securing systems for employers, or to work in law enforcement, Leidig said.

By adding cybersecurity as a concentration, the Padnos College follows GVSU’s holistic approach to providing a well-rounded education for students.

“We try to make sure our graduates, when they go out and accept a position, they’re not just going to be a database administrator or not just going to be a mobile applications developer, but have the wider skillset to be able to transition,” Leidig said. “What we’re trying to do is broaden and expand what we’re currently doing and make it attractive for someone who wants to come specifically for the cybersecurity degree or concentration, but in the process become a broader-abled computing professional.”

The demand for students trained in cybersecurity began to ratchet up after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S, he said.

Padnos College, with an enrollment of nearly 1,000 undergraduate and graduate students, has embedded cybersecurity into its curriculum over the years but held off on creating a specific concentration in a degree program until demand hit a higher point.

“We kind of waited to see what Grand Valley’s role is because a lot of institutions offer either similar or related programs. We wanted to make sure that Grand Valley had a system that matched our mission and our primary student body,” Leidig said. “It’s not that we hadn’t known this was important, but there had to be the right kind of demand for our target audience of students, and that demand is certainly there now. You can talk to any director of information technology or chief information officer of an organization and they know that they’re swimming in deep water of security.”

He anticipates 30 to 50 graduate students at Padnos College will pursue the cybersecurity concentration starting this fall.


One indicator of the demand for cybersecurity talent comes from an outlook by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which projects jobs for information security analysts to grow 18 percent from 2014 to 2024. Jobs for the position in Michigan are projected to grow 20 percent during the same period.

Information security analysts earned a median salary of $90,120 as of May 2015, according to the outlook.

The university’s deeper dive into cybersecurity training comes as attacks are increasing at an “astounding” rate, said Matt Maines, the chief technology evangelist at Holland-based I.T. firm Worksighted Inc. That’s driving the need to have more professionals trained in the field to protect against hacks, viruses and attacks such as ransomware, according to Maines.

“The demand is building quite a bit,” he said. “(Having) education institutions to kind of step up and beef up some of their programs to address this is definitely attractive in the talent pool.

“The education is getting a lot more focused than what it was years ago.”

An annual report issued by the Traverse City-based Ponemon Institute LLC pegged the cost of cybercrime in the U.S. at $17.36 billion in the 2016 fiscal year, up from $15.42 billion in the previous period and $12.69 billion in 2014.

The loss of information accounted for 35 percent of the cost in 2016; business disruption was 39 percent of the cost. 

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