URI launches master’s degree in cybersecurity

Posted on
One of only two online professional programs in country

KINGSTON, R.I. – June 29, 2015 – The University of Rhode Island has developed an online master’s degree in cybersecurity that uniquely combines intensive cybersecurity and digital forensics education with business applications.

Called the professional science master’s degree in cybersecurity, the 36-credit program is one of only two online programs of its kind in the country, according to the program’s organizers. The program is enrolling students for the fall. Click here for information.

The master’s degree is a natural expansion for URI, which is a National Security Agency/Department of Homeland Security National Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance/Cyber Defense. URI also has two high-demand, 16-credit graduate certificate programs in the field and an annual Cybersecurity Symposium. That yearly symposium and URI’s 2014 Honors Colloquium, Cybersecurity and Privacy, have drawn hundreds to the Kingston Campus to hear talks from leaders from the U.S. Department of Defense, Congress, FBI, media and businesses such as IBM, Google and Fidelity.

“The cybersecurity degree is significant, as URI is responding to a critical workforce need by creating skilled personnel who can mitigate threats to our state industry’s technological infrastructure,” said Lori E. Ciccomascolo, dean of URI’s Feinstein College of Continuing Education in Providence.

Offered through URI’s Feinstein Providence Campus Special Programs Office and URI’s Digital Forensics and Cyber Security Center, the program is a response to growing demand internationally and locally.

“We have been hearing from our students in the certificate programs, and they have been telling us repeatedly that they want a master’s degree,” said Lisa DiPippo, professor of computer science and academic director of URI’s cybersecurity program. ”They want the credential so they can advance their careers. This is for people in high-level jobs who want to get hands-on experience with computer systems and the ways in which those systems can be protected. And if someone does hack into those systems, this program will teach students how to track the bad guys.”

DiPippo said there are several master’s programs in cybersecurity in New England, but very few are fully online and there are no existing professional science master’s degrees in cybersecurity.

Data from Burning Glass International Inc., a Boston company that matches jobs with job-seekers, backs up DiPippo’s comments about demand. The firm says that cybersecurity job postings have grown 74 percent from 2007 to 2013, which is twice as fast as all information technology jobs. The data also show that demand is high, as it takes 36 percent longer to fill these vacancies than those for other jobs.

So what makes URI’s program different?

• It is fully online, which means students will be able to keep up with the course work whether they are at a U.S. Navy base in California for a month or with a company in China for a year.

• The program will teach not only the science of cybersecurity, but also the business and management skills needed to effectively apply the technical skills to the professional environment. “Traditional master’s degrees in cybersecurity provide the technical training, but not the business skills,” DiPippo said.

• Each student must complete a cybersecurity internship and attend a weekly online meeting with professors and other students during the duration of the internship session.

• A national reach. URI is already talking with the National Defense University in Washington, D.C. and other institutions about collaborations relating to research and student experiences.

• In addition to leading cybersecurity faculty from URI, the program will enlist national experts to teach courses. One of them is Daniel Dickerman, a special agent and the technical advisor and director of training for the Internal Revenue Services Criminal Investigation Electronic Crimes program and URI adjunct professor.

• There are two tracks, forensics and security. Each track has four required courses: introduction to information assurance, introduction to network and systems security, professional skills for cybersecurity and the cybersecurity internship. Each track has five courses tailored to prepare students for work in those specific fields. Individuals who have already completed the 16-credit graduate certificate programs in forensics or security may apply those credits toward completion of the master’s. And because most of the courses already exist within the certificate programs, there is little need for additional resources.

Christine Dolan, education specialist in the Special Programs Office at URI’s Providence Campus, Victor Fay-Wolfe, professor, founder of URI’s digital forensics program and director of the Digital Forensics and Cyber Security Center, and DiPippo have begun meeting with businesses and agencies around the state to discuss the program.

“We will go to any business or agency to sit down face-to-face to discuss the benefits of the program,” Dolan said. “So far, our certificate programs have acted as feeder programs. We hope to attract people with extensive business experience but who want to become experts in cybersecurity.”

“I will be visiting with businesses and government groups to discuss the kinds of cases we have worked on and the agencies and firms we have assisted,” Fay-Wolfe said.

To reassure those who are interested in such a program and who might worry about whether it’s the right fit, Fay-Wolfe said, “This is a technically oriented program requiring no technical background.”