UWT program can help address global cybersecurity threats

Contributing writerMarch 31, 2013 

Don’t mind me.

You just go on doing what you’re doing while I rummage around in your computer.

Hmm, some credit card account numbers – those could prove useful.

Email addresses? Someone will buy those.

Bid documents for an important company project? Let’s see what we can do with those.

As anyone who has dealt with something as mild as spam and spoof emails or as insidious as identity and financial theft can attest, computer crime is as ubiquitous as, well, the computer.

Cybercrime is a problem for individuals, given how much of our lives is lived on the Internet and how much of our information – some trivial, some important – is floating around on it.

It’s a problem for businesses, for whom computer networks are a powerful tool but also a major vulnerability. It’s a problem for our country, with cyberattacks on the operations and facilities vital to daily life posing a more peril-filled threat than what we face from missiles heaved in our direction.

So as much as spending on prevention of physical crime diverts financial resources from other things we could be using our money for, so too has the prevention of cybercrime become a necessary business.

That makes a recent announcement from the University of Washington Tacoma of interest on several levels.

UWT is setting up a master’s degree program in cybersecurity and leadership, with classes to begin in June.

The idea behind it is to equip graduates with practical knowledge about the types of threats and countermeasures to them, as well as some training on how to manage a cybersecurity operation and the people in it.

The need for people with such skills is undeniable. Internet Identity Inc., a Tacoma company that provides cybersecurity services and consulting, publishes a quarterly ecrime trends report that details the attacks, increasing in number of attempts and targets as well as sophistication, that all sorts of organizations are now facing.

The amount of effort and brainpower being applied worldwide to vandalism, theft and destruction is a bit staggering and reinforces the consensus that the cops on the Internet beat are several steps behind what the malefactors are capable of.

IID’s most recent ecrime report sounded the call for concerted and coordinated defensive measures: “As businesses look for increasingly effective ways to shield themselves from cybercrime, it has become essential for them to cooperate, collaborate and communicate – especially when the perpetrators targeting them are doing the very same thing.”

So if there’s demand for people with expertise in cybercrime, it’s not a bad thing to have a local school producing those people. That’s especially true given the target-rich environment that constitutes the Northwest – from Boeing to Microsoft and Amazon, from health care networks to the regional power grid to our military.

In fact, the military was one of the driving forces behind the UWT program. To quote from the school’s news release: “The degree was developed in collaboration with the Washington National Guard cybersecurity unit at Camp Murray, where there is demand for such a program from service members. Many graduates of the program are expected to work in the military and government agencies in addition to the private sector.”

That’s among the factors that elevate this beyond just another announcement of a school adding a program to capitalize on the hot topic of the moment. This isn’t a topic du jour – as one IID executive recently noted, banks have been around for thousands of years, but bank robberies are still a problem.

As long as we have computing and information storage devices and networks linking them, someone is going to be working on ways to infiltrate, disrupt and steal from them.

So why not develop a – dare we use the term – cluster of organizations and companies with some expertise in this sector, one based in this region?

Beyond that, the program has at least the potential for UWT to stand out in the higher-ed crowd with a distinctive program. It’s long been the contention of this column that Tacoma has higher-ed resources it needs to leverage more as part of its overall economic development strategy. This is one way to do it.

Speaking of economic development strategies, it’s also been the view from this space that the large military presence locally has potential in the form of entrepreneurial ventures established by those who choose to stick around once they leave the service. The aforementioned cluster could easily include startups that specialize in cybersecurity, providing services not just to entities here but nationally and perhaps globally.

That’s all in the execution, but at least the idea and potential are there. As long as there are people trying to capitalize on the Internet equivalent of smash-and-grab, perhaps we can capitalize on the effort to thwart them.

Bill Virgin is editor and publisher of Washington Manufacturing Alert and Pacific Northwest Rail News. He can be reached at bill.virgin@yahoo.com.

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