Over the last few years, cybersecurity challenges have rapidly increased as attacks have grown more intense and intrusive. The scale of threat for these attacks varies from stolen funds and identities to large-scale attacks on companies and government agencies. In 2020, the city of Las Vegas revealed that its data systems were attacked more than 279,000 times per month, on average. At UNLV, measures to contribute to a resolution have begun.
This spring, the university welcomed its first class of students into the UNLV master of science in cybersecurity program. The interdisciplinary degree is a collaborative effort between the computer science department at the Howard R. Hughes College of Engineering and the management information systems group within the Lee Business School’s management entrepreneurship, and technology department. Housed under the Graduate College, the program will build upon both colleges' strengths and marry the two curriculums to train students in the knowledge of computers, networks, and risk and security management.
A growing need
Ask almost anyone, and they will agree that 2020 was the year of rolling disasters. The world felt COVID's ripple in more ways than one, including a fivefold increase in cybercrimes. With this rapid growth rate, higher education has struggled to produce skilled and experienced graduates as fast as the need is growing.
According to Cybersecurity Ventures, the cost for cybercrime will hit $10.5 trillion by 2025. Located in the world's entertainment capital, Las Vegas companies need to prevent cyberattacks and mitigate the damage. "We need to prepare for attacks in every aspect and not only from the technical perspective. We need professionals equipped with a deeper and broader knowledge in cybersecurity," said engineering professor Yoohwan Kim.
A significant challenge for employers is finding experienced graduates who balance both technical and soft skills. Employers need people who understand a company's goals and how technology helps facilitate those outcomes. "We're asking the bigger questions: Can our graduates understand what a business is and what it does? Can they interact with technology to the benefit of the business?" asked program director Gregory Moody. "Without these skills, graduates who cultivate only their technical knowledge find it difficult to advance within the industry."
Due to a lack of local talent, companies tend to pull professionals from the East Coast or train existing employees interested in cybersecurity. The need for more cybersecurity professionals presents a lucrative opportunity for students interested in a career with higher pay. "Our cybersecurity faculty members constantly get inquiries about cybersecurity coursework and careers. Our cybersecurity courses are usually in high demand, and we increase the enrollment cap multiple times during the registration period," said Kim. Despite student interest, most programs in Nevada are either part of a computer science program or an online course.
The UNLV master of science in cybersecurity program is unique in its ability to foster business and engineering skills, peer-interactions, hands-on projects, and on-the-job training through internships. Students will graduate prepared for management positions and with a broader view of cybersecurity within an organization.
Who Is an ideal fit?
No technical experience? No problem. The 30-credit program caters to students with an interest in cybersecurity whether they have the experience or not. Students lacking the technical skills will be able to attend a technology boot camp during the summer and meet other students on a level playing field the following semester.
Cybersecurity is inherently multi-disciplinary because attackers look for any weakness and exploit it, whether technical, psychological, or managerial. "We're looking for both traditional students who have a background in technology and students who have an interest, but need the academic preparation," said Moody. "Classes will be difficult for those without the technological skills, but that's okay because there are also the soft managerial courses they often excel in. Our goal is to help students acquire a good balance that can make them successful in the industry."
The new master's program will delve deep into technical areas, including system administration, network administration, cryptography, network security, digital forensics, security data analytics, cyber-physical system security, and web security. On the business side, the program will emphasize the importance of managerial and policy issues in enterprise, practical security operations, and incident response and handling. Admission requirements are rigorous, but for those willing to put in the work, rewards can be generous, with salaries ranging between $93,000 and $131,000.
UNLV is recognized as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense, designated by the National Security Agency and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. UNLV is one of only some 300 colleges and universities, and the only four-year institution in Nevada, that have achieved the designation.