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USC may soon offer master's in cybersecurity field

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Graduate students looking to further careers in computer science may soon have another, cutting-edge option at the University of South Carolina.

A proposed new Master of Science in information security has been approved by the school’s board of trustees and is awaiting approval from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges and the S.C. Commission on Higher Education. If that approval is gained in the fall, the new degree would likely be offered in 2017.

“There is a high workforce demand for cybersecurity-trained professionals,” said Csilla Farkas, associate professor in USC’s Department of Computer Science and Engineering and the director of the Center for Information Assurance Engineering. “We have close to 16 years of history and working to develop quality education programs.”

USC has offered cybersecurity education and performed nationally recognized research in the field since 2000. It was the first state higher education institution designated by the National Security Agency as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education.

Faculty and students in USC's information assurance engineering center work on a variety of security topics, including assessing the vulnerability of information systems and formulating defenses against cyberattacks.

“We are well-positioned to be the leaders in the area,” Farkas said. “We have multiple tracks in the bachelor and graduate programs.”

The newest planned addition to those programs will address the rapidly increasing need for solid cybersecurity.

Once the domain of defense contractors and government agencies, the field of cybersecurity has opened up to trained professionals in industries including finance, health care and retail. Recent security breaches at major consumer companies such as Target have highlighted the need for strong security programs.

According to market analytics firm Burning Glass Technologies, job postings for cybersecurity openings have grown three times as fast as openings for overall IT jobs, increasing 91% from 2010-2014; and cybersecurity workers can command an average salary of nearly $6,500 more per year than other IT workers. In 2014, there were nearly 50,000 postings for workers who are certified information systems security professionals — CISSP is the primary credential in cybersecurity work — and 238,158 postings for cybersecurity-related jobs.

Farkas said South Carolina alone has 2,300 cybersecurity jobs that need to be filled.

“There’s a high workforce demand,” she said. “Usually high demand also comes with higher salaries.”

The Master of Science in information security would combine theoretical training with field experience, Farkas said. Along with a bachelor’s degree heavy on core computer science and math courses, Farkas said potential candidates for the new degree would also benefit from an understanding of human psychology and communication skills.

“It’s really the aptitude toward thinking algorithmically, being able to set up a logical reasoning path,” she said. “A lot of breaches occur because of the human element of not understanding technology. We hope to get applicants from business or law or social science to understand the impact of cybersecurity on different disciplines.”

Contact Melinda Waldrop at 803-726-7542.

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