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Deadline looming for UNLV cybersecurity program

In the wake of 9/11, UNLV created a master’s degree in crisis and emergency management to give students the tools to respond to threats of terrorism.

Fifteen years later, the threat of cyberattacks on retail stores, health insurance companies, restaurants and even the National Security Agency have prompted the university to expand its focus with a new graduate certificate in cybersecurity.

“For all that’s happening in the world of cybersecurity, the timing of it was perfect,” said Chris Stream, director of the school of public policy and leadership. “It’s a professional degree around the tools, knowledge and management systems needed to learn about the legal, political and social dynamics of cybersecurity.”

The one-year, four-course program — completely online except for students’ participation at the annual Black Hat conference in Las Vegas — begins this spring. Students have until Dec. 1 to apply.

Stream said school officials are targeting middle- and upper-management types with engineering or computer science backgrounds who manage cybersecurity in their organizations. It’s different than a cybersecurity program housed at an engineering school with the intent to train boots-on-the-ground computer professionals in skills such as coding.

“Because this is emerging and has been emerging for so many years, it’s been growing geometrically, and management is having a hard time keeping up,” instructor Donette Gordon said. “You saw in the election that even the government is hard-pressed to keep up with the cybermeddling we were having, and are still having.”

Stream said instructors will arm students with the tools to go back to their respective businesses, nonprofits or government agencies and create workplace policies related to cyberbreaches.

Instructors are putting the finishing touches on the capstone course, but Gordon said she envisions students having to create a comprehensive response plan for their workplaces. One concept — ensuring the continuity of operations after a disaster — isn’t new, but has extended to cyberattacks.

“What happens if the building gets flooded, or there’s an earthquake, or a tornado moves through and wipes out all of the files?” Gordon said. “This is an extension of that — what happens if you’re hacked? What happens if you lose people’s identities?”

Stream said students who are armed with the knowledge can communicate effectively to both technical and nontechnical staff members that everyone has a stake in information security.

“Too often, we view cybersecurity and information security as an IT problem,” Stream said. “But security of delicate information is really everybody’s problem. Many cybersecurity attacks and breaches are not because of a computer system malfunctioning, but maybe because someone left a password out, or a laptop lying open.”

Contact Natalie Bruzda at nbruzda@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3897. Follow @NatalieBruzda on Twitter.

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