Cyber attacks are increasing in all categories of the digital sphere and are likely to become more frequent and more damaging, says Alexander Perez-Pons, associate professor at the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
With high profile attacks on network management company SolarWinds; the colonial pipeline; JBS meat processing company; and software company Kaseya, the urgency for professionals who can thwart, contain and even prevent network breaches has come to the fore, highlighting the great need for graduates with a master’s degree in computer engineering, which focuses on network security and only takes 10 months.
“If you look on the horizon, there will be what looks like an explosion of IoT devices – more devices everywhere are recording, monitoring and collecting information,” says Perez-Pons. “These devices make our lives easier, but how can safety now not be a major factor? “
Looking at the past 30+ years of devices and programming, Perez-Pons points out that decades ago the main push was the functionality and capability of a product. Device security was not a primary concern.
“Consumers assume companies are doing due diligence to protect their data with security measures,” warns Perez-Pons, who admits he’s doing everything possible to limit his exposure.
A common security measure that is taken to limit data exposure uses two-factor identification. Information is a commodity that can be exchanged even when security measures are in place – there are privacy issues today that challenge the control you have over your data, he explains. There is always the possibility that someone is trying to access your devices and that is why two-factor authentication is a good thing as it protects the network.
“Minimizing your ‘surface’ or digital exposure is a good way to think about it,” says Perez-Pons, and it starts with cybersecurity which takes network security into account. “So if the networks are secure, good communication can take place and anything that is suspicious or that could have malicious intent can be identified and stopped before proceeding any further.”
This was the case in the Kaseya breach. Kaseya is a provider of IT and security management solutions for managed service providers and small and medium businesses. The company reacted quickly to a ransomware attack on its network infrastructure that was launched on the July 4th bank holiday weekend. The company discovered the network breach and was able to limit the effects to around 50 of its 35,000 customers, provide a decryption key, and avoid paying a ransom.
“Cyber attacks are on the rise, and it’s no longer a question of if but when. Network security is here to stay, as businesses need to be diligent in their security posture, ”said Fred Voccola, CEO of Kaseya. “There is an untapped gold mine of professional opportunities in this field, which comes with long-term job security. “
The urgency to help stop the breaches is pushing the current federal administration to strengthen critical infrastructure. Collaborative work is initiated between agencies to ensure that new methods are used to prevent attacks. It is, however, an evolving industry, insists Perez-Pons. An area where professionals in the field need to be many steps ahead of criminals and be prepared with the latest methods and knowledge, as this is a changing surface. It’s not static – he points out that what we secure today may not be tomorrow – it’s continuous.
Due to the changing nature of the field, many professionals seek education and training in the latest techniques along with higher education and certifications, such as with a master’s degree in computer engineering, notes Perez-Pons.
MS in Computer Engineering: Network Security
The Fully Online MS in Computer Engineering, which focuses on network security, gives students an exhibition on how to configure firewalls and be able to secure entire networks for organizations, says Perez-Pons. In addition, the program prepares for valuable certifications including Network +, Security +, and Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH).
“This covers what is involved when you communicate and how you need encryption, to make sure that if someone sniffs or launches a man-in-the-middle attack, they won’t see that the information has been transmitted in a simple English. “says Perez-Pons, who describes the forensic techniques used, including reverse engineering needs to limit or neutralize ransomware or malware attacks.
Many Perez-Pons students are professionals already working in the field, looking for a career “boost” to specialize and access a higher income bracket. The fact that the degree is offered online offers a great benefit to those who are working, he notes.
The National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have designated the FIU as the national center of academic excellence in cyber defense education. The designation, initiated by Perez-Pons, helps the FIU meet the growing demand for professionals with networking and cybersecurity expertise in various disciplines.
“We have to be 100 percent right all the time. If we only have a small weak link and an attacker finds out, he only has to be right once, ”explains Perez-Pons. “As you can see, the demand is huge.”