Imagining a Career in Cybersecurity

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STC leads the way as one of four Texas colleges to offer cybersecurity degree

Fifteen to 20 years ago, the term “cyberattack” would elicit visions of a blockbuster movie where the bad guys tap into phone lines and listen in on covert government conversations. Today, we’ve come to understand that the possibility of a cyberattack is much more than a movie scene. Networks of all sizes are nothing short of a breach away from disseminating important information. This creates a sense of vulnerability for the general public since even large companies are susceptible to information breaches. Last year’s Wells Fargo cyberattack saw tens of thousands of bank accounts accessed without authorization. Incidents like this call into question how safely our information is being guarded and how major entities and corporations can take precautionary measures to avoid further breaches.

A slew of recent public information mishaps highlight a growing demand and need for stronger attention to network protection. One step in this direction is the ongoing training of cybersecurity experts and professionals, including at institutions like South Texas College.

“We use real-case scenarios of real crimes that have been committed to use in the classroom as examples of how the software programs used by these big companies are actually used in real situations,” said Adolfo Lozano, the STC information technology department chair.

STC is one of few colleges in the state with a cybersecurity program where the main objective is to prepare students to know how to protect networks, computers, programs, and data from attacks, damage, or unauthorized access. This degree was implemented in fall 2017 and came from a revision of a previous degree called information security/digital forensics. It was renamed cybersecurity. With the change of title, some courses were replaced to comply with new National Security Administration rules for any college wanting to offer this field of study. This program is offered as both an associate of applied science and certificate degree.

The NSA designated STC as a National Center for Academic Excellence in cybersecurity and cyber defense until the year 2022. The certificate consists of 32 credit hours and students can transfer from the certificate to the associate degree, which includes a total of 60 to 61 hours. STC is only one of four colleges in the state of Texas with this prestigious designation.

Students pursuing this program also have the opportunity to earn industry certifications along the way to graduation. These certifications are nationally recognized and demonstrate the student’s knowledge of a certain skill set needed in the IT industry. One example is the Computer and Mobile Forensics Certification, which prepares students for “incident response” situations needed to analyze, extract, and report evidence in criminal cases.

The following certifications are offered to students in the cybersecurity degree program:

> Cisco Networking Academy

> CompTIA

> Cellebrite Certified Operator (CCO)

> Cellebrite Certified Physical Analyzer (CCPA)

> Paraben Certified Mobile Operator (CMO)

> Blackbag Certified Mobilyze Operator (CMO)

Coupling these certifications with real-world scenarios offers a valuable educational experience, Lozano said.

“We show students not only the technical side, such as using keywords, but also how to secure the evidence in this kind of situation using the software from Cellebrite and cyber security equipment,” he said.

Cellebrite is the company that was able to crack into an iPhone following a terrorist attack to retrieve the password that Apple did not wish to release.

All certifications available to the students in the cybersecurity program are free, and employment opportunities are vast for graduates of this discipline. Industry leaders have observed the need for network protection both locally and nationally. Upon graduation, students can expect to work in local, state or federal law enforcement, private sector companies, hospitals, tech companies, school districts, and the financial industry — just to name a few. Position titles include cybersecurity administrator, network defense manager, systems engineer, IT director, or IT specialist.

“We have had several individuals who have been hired by a local company called NetSync even before graduating from the program,” Lozano said.