Western Nevada College to launch cybersecurity program next fall

In 2013, it was Yahoo. In 2015, Anthem got hit. Last year, Equifax.

And those were just the big ones.

It’s no secret, data breaches, big and small, are more common year by year. Consider these eye-popping statistics: 5 million data records are lost or stolen every day; 211,604 every hour; 3,527 every minute; and 59 every second, according to the Breach Level Index.

All told, cyber attacks are the fastest growing crime in the United States — and they are increasing in not only size, but also sophistication and cost, according to Cybersecurity Ventures.

These alarming stats and facts have propelled colleges and universities in Nevada to boot up cybersecurity programs over the past decade. The most recent is Western Nevada College in Carson City, which is designing a cybersecurity program to be launched in fall 2018.

“I guess you can say it was the next evolutionary step,” said Dave Riske, a computer information technology instructor at WNC. “Being as impactful as cybersecurity is and as much as it’s been in the news lately, it was the next step we needed to take. It’s a grander world now, with respect to more and more of our resources — critical resources — tied to a network.”

Riske spearheaded creation of the program through funding from the Nevada Governor’s Office of Science, Innovation and Technology. WNC was awarded $129,000 in funding in October 2017, said Georgia White, director of career and technical education at WNC.

The Carson City college used a portion of the grant to become an academic partner with EC-Council, a global leader in cybersecurity certification programs.

Through the partnership, WNC will be able to offer certification courses in Certified Network Defender (CND), Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH), and Computer Hacking Forensics Investigator (CHFI).

In addition, the OSIT funding will go toward a testing lab, replete with servers, computers, large monitors and more.

“To date, I’ve spent all but $12.35 of the money awarded us,” Riske said with a laugh.

An emerging workforce

With data breaches occurring like clockwork in Northern Nevada and beyond, the demand for professionals in cybersecurity has never been higher. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects roughly 28,500 information security analysts to be hired in the U.S. between 2016 and 2026.

“The need for cybersecurity professionals is growing in Nevada, both in state government and in the private sector,” Brian Mitchel, Nevada Governor’s OSIT director, said in a previous report. “In Nevada, the projected growth rate in the number of jobs requiring cybersecurity skills through 2022 is 30 percent. These jobs have an average wage of about $85,000.”

White said she anticipated about 70 students a year going through WNC’s cybersecurity program.

“The mission of this division is to prepare professionals and technicians for the current and emerging workforce,” White said. “We see the transformation of economic development of industries coming into Northern Nevada. Then all of the service industries that continually gather our personal information—we want to be able to help them defend and protect that information.

“So it’s protecting the citizens of Nevada or individuals using Nevada organizations or companies.”

The reality is, Riske said, the hackers are not going away or letting up — ever. The more cybersecurity professionals that WNC can help cultivate, the better it is not just for Northern Nevada, but also the entire digital world.

“What would happen if a HIPPA compliant arena got hit like Equifax got hit?” Riske said.

Equifax, one of the largest credit bureaus in the U.S., had 143 million customers affected in the 2017 data breach.

“Now we’d have medical data out there. And let’s be real, Equifax was bad enough.”

This is why organizations across the board are boosting their investment in antivirus, intrusion detection, monitoring and other tools.

According to Gartner, worldwide cybersecurity spending will climb to $96 billion this year, an increase of 8 percent from 2017.

“Right now, even though it doesn’t feel like it, the white hackers a little bit ahead, the defense is a little bit stronger than the attackers,” Riske said. “That doesn’t mean we’re not suffering vulnerabilities. Historically, that pendulum swings, and we need to be prepared for that.”


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