NSA-DHS designation enhances FDU’s cybersecurity reputation

Jane Tsambis and Hong Zhao (holding the award) accept the Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education designation on behalf of Fairleigh Dickinson University at the 17th Annual Colloquium for Information Systems Security Education in Mobile, Ala. on June 10, 2013.

By Kenna Caprio

The word cybersecurity, along with its counterparts surveillance, classified, privacy and national security, is gracing a lot of headlines these days.

It’s a hot topic at Fairleigh Dickinson University now too, but for a far more positive reason. In June, FDU was honored as National Security Agency (NSA) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education (CAE/IAE).

“At this time, the NSA-DHS designation is the gold standard in academia in this field. There’s no other designation that’s overseeing the quality of these programs,” says Kalyan Mondal, director of FDU’s Center for Cybersecurity and Information Assurance and associate professor of electrical engineering.

Cybersecurity, formerly part of the more general branch of computer security, has come into the fore in the digital age.

“The major change (in cybersecurity) came with the World Wide Web taking over a lot of different kinds of communications and capabilities: upload, download, social networking, video, audio. With those came vulnerabilities,” says Mondal. “The term cybersecurity more or less got coined because of this enhanced role of computer security.”

More recently, “the president (of the United States) has acknowledged there is a huge risk of cyber attacks, and we need to have proper defenses built and have a troop of cyber professionals who defend these installations including the power grid, nuclear and energy facilities,” says Mondal. “Academia is challenged to come up with training for the cybersecurity troops.”

Fairleigh Dickinson University has provided a B.S. in computer science since the 1970s, digital forensics and cybercrime laboratory training since 2006, and a cybersecurity specialization for the last several years. The Office of the University Provost provided encouragement and support in forming the FDU Center for Cybersecurity and Information Assurance in 2012. The Center acts as the focal point for FDU faculty and staff to collaborate and pursue various academic and outreach activities.  

Students on the Metropolitan Campus and College at Florham can select cybersecurity as a concentration in the computer science programs in University and Becton Colleges or minor in computer forensics in University College. In Petrocelli College of Continuing Studies, students can opt to work toward a graduate certificate or concentration in computer security or computer security and forensic administration.

But receiving the NSA-DHS designation “requires going even beyond the training and courseware level compliance,” says Mondal. Schools must demonstrate outreach, programs, IT security, student development and faculty research relating to cybersecurity concepts to qualify.

“With this designation, we are in a position to go for some of the student scholarship grant programs that the National Science Foundation and other agencies offer. Any university can apply for those, but normally, the universities that have this designation are considered better qualified,” says Mondal. Mondal thinks the designation could eventually lead to students receiving scholarships to study cybersecurity at Fairleigh Dickinson University. He also says the CAE/IAE honor will allow the University to apply for outreach grants, for use in attracting students to the program.

“This particular designation is going to allow us to start some new programs. Some students might like to do a BS in cybersecurity. When we have a full-blown program, the scope will be enhanced, allowing students to do more experimentation,” says Mondal. “Right now, we do some lab work, defending against simulated attacks. When we have a full program, we’ll use some of the gaming and sandbox techniques to create the situations.”

The University is the only school in New Jersey to receive the award in 2013, and it must be re-designated in 2015.

As for the future of cybersecurity, Mondal doesn’t see the privacy versus security debate resolving any time soon. “The use of computing and networking is not going away. Every day we try to find new ways to do something electronically. Hopefully, our graduates will also get involved in creating policies, codes of conduct and ethics for the future cyberspace.”

Feature Story from the FDU Newsroom

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