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Whatcom Community College plays critical role in nation’s cyber defense

BY CORRINNE SANDE, courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Post Date:10/20/2014

FBI Director James Comey recently stated on the television program “60 Minutes” that it is impossible to estimate the economic impact of cyberattacks on the U.S. economy, but it is in the “billions.” Who are the perpetrators of these attacks? According to Comey, it is nation-state actors, terrorists, organized cyber syndicates, hacktivists, criminals and pedophiles. This interview, along with other reports of cyberattacks on businesses, exposes the vulnerabilities of our cyber world and the need for trained professionals to protect organizations of all kinds against cyber threats. Whatcom Community College has stepped up to the challenge. A National Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance/Cyber Defense, WCC is a significant player in cybersecurity education and a critical partner in the development of the local tech workforce. In many ways, Whatcom is defining the field.

The college’s acclaimed Computer Information Systems program, started in 1996, has evolved to reflect the changing nature of cyberattacks as well as industry standards. The program, initially focused on computer programming, support and networking, today offers a Computer Information Systems degree with an emphasis on information security; an associate in applied science transfer degree in cybersecurity, aligned with a corresponding bachelor’s degree program at Western Washington University; and an associate in science – criminal justice, with an option in computer forensics. Programs include a full year of Cisco-approved networking courses. We also offer certificates in network administration, technical support and information security. National Science Foundation grants have contributed to program development.

Our graduates will have careers as technical support specialists, network managers, network administrators and information security specialists in sectors such as aerospace, IT services, utilities/refineries, education, supply chain solutions, retail, healthcare and government. Our program is one of the few in the nation to focus on industrial control systems security, training to prepare graduates for information security jobs at oil refineries and utilities. These major local employers are particularly vulnerable to cyberattacks.

Recent articles and reports dramatically illustrate the need for strengthening cybersecurity education and increasing the number of graduates. In January 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated the need for information security analysts was expected to grow 37 percent between 2012 and 2022 (much faster than average); the median annual salary is $86,170.

A Techopedia article “Cybersecurity: The Big Profitable Field Techies Are Overlooking” states: “If we had to pinpoint one tech career with truly great prospects over the next couple of years, it’d be cybersecurity. ... What is lacking in this field is professionals to take these jobs. ... That can be at least partly attributed to the fact that many people just aren’t sure what this career track entails.”

WCC is helping students connect with this high-demand, rewarding career and demonstrating our commitment by investing in the program. This summer, Whatcom’s Computer Information Systems and cybersecurity labs and classrooms were remodeled to more than double the size, including two lecture spaces, three enlarged labs, a networking/server room, and an instructional support and testing area. The labs have been significantly upgraded and include additional computers, a Cisco router package and network infrastructure equipment.

Earlier this month, we learned that following an extensive review of WCC’s program, the National Security Administration extended Whatcom’s designation as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance/Cyber Defense. At this time, we are one of only a few community colleges in the nation to earn this new distinction, which recognizes colleges that are models of innovative, comprehensive education and training in the information assurance field with curriculum mapped to the latest NSA standards. Whatcom is also the lead institution and home of CyberWatch West, a National Science Foundation Advanced Technological Education center, one of only four in the nation in the field of cybersecurity education and the only one on the West Coast.

We also partner with industry to raise awareness of cyber threats. This includes the Oct. 30 Cyber Risk Summit hosted on WCC’s campus by the Technology Alliance Group for Northwest Washington, Whatcom and WWU. Register at cyberrisksummit.org.

Our nation’s single most important cybersecurity resource is its cyber workforce. I’m proud to say that Whatcom is leading the way in training highly qualified cybersecurity professionals.

About the author: Corrinne Sande is the chair of Whatcom Community College’s Technology Department and lead faculty member of the Computer Information Systems and Cybersecurity programs. She is also the principal investigator and director of CyberWatch West.

Read more here.

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