Cybersecurity efforts keep growing at UNG

A new bachelor’s degree and the growth of the Center for Cyber Operations Education (CCOE) signifies the expansion of and commitment to the cybersecurity programs within the Mike Cottrell College of Business (MCCB) at UNG.

Dr. Ash Mady, department head of computer science and information systems at UNG, said the university’s cybersecurity offerings educate students on the tools they will use in the field after graduation.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, computer and information technology occupations are projected to grow 13% from 2016 to 2026 – faster than the average for all occupations. UNG aims to fill that need with graduates from its computer science and cybersecurity degree programs.

“We’re giving the industry exactly what they’re looking for,” Mady said.

For example, two UNG students earned one-year, full-ride scholarships through the Cybersecurity Scholarship Program in fall 2018. One student earned renewal and two more students were selected in fall 2019. The program includes paid summer internships and an agreement to work for a year with the Department of Defense (DoD) in the cybersecurity field after graduation.

UNG worked with three other senior military colleges (SMC) to establish DoD cyber institutes at SMCs and other qualified universities with ROTC programs through the 2019 Defense Authorization Act. Maj. Gen. Stephen Fogarty, a UNG alumnus, heads the U.S. Army Cyber Command.

The MCCB also added a graduate certification in cybersecurity in fall 2017 and a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity in fall 2018.

“We are truly part of the solution by supplying people who are capable of offsetting the shortages in this area,” Mady said.

Preparing the students to join the cybersecurity workforce are UNG faculty, including Dr. Tamirat Abegaz, assistant professor of computer science, and Dr. Bryson Payne, professor of computer science and director of the CCOE. Both have published a chapter in the upcoming textbook, “Computer and Network Security Essentials.”

Payne also taught a reverse-engineering course for the first time in fall 2018. The course showed students how hackers gain access to computer systems and how to take apart viruses and ransomware from the inside out.

The education proved fruitful. In spring 2019, UNG placed third in the National Security Agency (NSA) Codebreaker Challenge, which was a highly competitive, 100-day, nationwide cyber contest with 377 schools.

Eighty-one UNG students participated in the hands-on competition to develop reverse-engineering and code analysis skills while working on a realistic problem set centered around the NSA’s mission.

“Our students were able to do the hard work to solve the challenges to finish third,” Payne said.

Payne and Abegaz also educate high school students about cybersecurity during the GenCyber Warrior Academy each summer.

More than 170 national and international students apply for 40 positions in the highly selective 10-day summer program, which is sponsored by the NSA

Payne said GenCyber Warrior Academy’s purpose is to expose students to cybersecurity and computer science programs to spark interest in the field and introduce women to the male-dominated industry. Female college students only earn 18 % of computer science bachelor’s degrees in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“We want to see more women in computer and cybersecurity careers,” Payne said. “And the GenCyber Warrior Academy exposes the brightest girls to those opportunities.”

The academy also creates a natural pipeline between high school students and the job market. Students are introduced to computer science through the GenCyber Warrior Academy at UNG and then can earn a degree at UNG.

UNG’s courses, certificates and degree in cyber security are designed to prepare the next generation of cyber leaders who can securely provision systems, protect and defend networks, analyze threats and investigate incidents in industry, government or military settings both at home and abroad.

UNG is one of a few institutions in the country designated as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense by the Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency.