Defending A Digital World

By Johanna Cano, posted Oct 15, 2021
UNCW announced the launch of a new bachelor's degree in cybersecurity to prepare students for the growing workforce. (Photo c/o UNCW)
In May, many found themselves lining up at gas stations filling up their cars to avoid running out of fuel during a shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline, one of the nation's largest pipelines that carries gas up the East Coast from Texas, about 45% of the region’s fuel supply.
This shutdown was an effort to contain a breach from a ransomware attack against the operator’s computer networks that illustrated the importance of cybersecurity.
More everyday operations of companies, governments, individuals and other institutions are housed digitally, leaving important information vulnerable to cyberattacks.
This year, the University of North Carolina Wilmington announced the launch of a new Bachelor of Science degree in cybersecurity. In 2018, UNCW launched its Center for Cyber Defense Education (CCDE).
“With more companies and governments becoming victims of cyberattacks, the need for highly trained individuals is more important than ever,” a press release from UNCW stated.
Ulku Clark is director of UNCW’s CCDE and program coordinator of the cybersecurity degree. Clark, who has a doctorate in management information systems, said cybersecurity is essential and worldwide.
“We are in an era where cybersecurity is almost as important, maybe even more important, than anything else for national power wars going on in between countries. In this age, whoever owns the information is the power player,” Clark said.
As new technologies are developed cybersecurity is usually overlooked, she said.
“When [information] is not secured properly, we are putting everything out there. All of us are using smartphones, which have our passwords, bank accounts, emails; everything is residing on our smart smartphones,” she said.
Clark noted that cybersecurity impacts all fields.
“For that reason, in our curriculum, we try to address all these different needs. We have a cybersecurity minor we are updating now to be inclusive of all of UNCW students and to be able to focus on cybersecurity needs of their disciplines, because everybody probably needs a basic cybersecurity foundation,” Clark said.
This would include, for examples, criminology, psychology and business students looking at cybersecurity from a different perspective.
The center has also partnered with eight schools in the state to form the N.C. Partnership for Cybersecurity Excellence (NC-PaCE) coalition that received a $2 million grant from the National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity located within the National Security Agency.
This coalition will partner with public agencies and private businesses to address workforce gaps and establish cybersecurity as an economic development tool for the state.
“One of the things that we are going to do under that is to do a gap analysis and figure out what areas in cybersecurity we need expertise in the state so we can make sure that the education is focused on those areas,” she said.
NC-PaCE will also work on having each school in the coalition establish a specialty within the cybersecurity field and develop an internship program for students.
Although most people see headlines about large corporations experiencing cyberattacks, small businesses are just as vulnerable, if not more, to these threats.
Due to limited resources, smaller businesses may not have a cybersecurity plan and they are often used as a target to get to their larger business partners, she said.
“The Department of Defense of course contracts most of the work to various companies, and these companies usually contract out to smaller companies,” Clark said. “There’s that DOD supply chain, and what they realized is that vendors, small players don’t have the security measures out there and when their systems are exploited through the supply chain, the DOD becomes vulnerable.”
This is why Clark believes that in a few years the government will require all businesses it works with to be Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification level 1 compliant. UNCW organized a webinar for potential DOD partners and is organizing a workshop to train partners, she said.
One way to learn more about cybersecurity is through the third annual Cybersecurity Awareness Conference, a one-day conference hosted by UNCW featuring speakers from business, academia and government. The virtual conference is on Oct. 23, and on Oct. 22 there will be a workshop on Phishing and Spoofed Email Investigations.
State businesses that need help with cybersecurity can reach out to NC-PaCE, Clark said.
“I think the smaller, medium-sized businesses should join these types of events. And most of these events are again organized by government institutions by higher education institutions like us,” she said. “We are here to make sure that everyone is increasing their awareness and understanding of cybersecurity issues.”
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