San Antonio might not be officially known as Cyber City, USA, but it has a long history as a leading city for cyber security development. The 24th Air Force developed the first intrusion detection system in San Antonio, and one of the first commercial intrusion detection systems was produced by San Antonio’s SecureLogix.
With the presence of the 24th Air Force, the National Security Agency as well as numerous local security companies, cyber security plays a vital role in the San Antonio economy.
And, UTSA plays a pivotal role in the city’s growth as a leader in cyber security.
Just last year UTSA was ranked the No. 1 cyber security program in the country according to a survey by the Ponemon Institute. And, the UTSA cyber security program was one of the first programs in the nation to be desig- nated as a Center of Academic Excellence in both Information Assurance/Cyber Defense Education and Information Assurance Research by the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security.
UTSA’s cyber security programming is multidisciplinary and housed in the College of Business, College of Engineering and College of Science. “The No. 1 ranking is a big deal,” said Wm. Gerard Sanders, dean and Bodenstedt Chair in the College of Business. “We have a good program, and we have good students. People are talking about us now.”
The College of Business has been offering cyber security classes since 2001.
“Our curriculum is quite comprehensive,” said Yoris Au, chair of the Department of Information Systems and Cyber Security. “Cyber security is not just a technology issue, but also a business issue. Consequently, we offer courses that provide future cyber security professionals with not only technology know- how, but also a sound understanding of how people and business organizations can prepare for and respond to cyber security threats utilizing technology. This really differentiates our program from others.”
The college currently offers a bachelor’s degree in cyber security, a MBA concentration in cyber security, a master’s degree in information technology with a concentration in cyber security and a doctoral program with a concentration in information technology.
“We were one of the first schools in the nation to be certified by the NSA as a Center for Academic Excellence,” said Nicole Beebe, associate professor of cyber security and the Melvin Lachman Distinguished Professor. “It means our curriculum meets real-world needs and is viewed as high quality by an outside organization—one to which information security is very important.”
The college’s Department of Information Systems and Cyber Security offers a broad array of coursework in the areas of digital forensics, secure network design, intrusion detection, voice and data security, secure electronic commerce and security incident response. Students learn how to protect data, gather and examine digital evidence, perform security risk assessments and study computer and network forensics procedures using state-of-the-art tools.
“A common theme in our cyber security classes is that they are hands-on,” said Beebe. “We teach students to use computers in an intelligent way to solve cyber security and forensics problems.”
For the more than 150 students enrolled in cyber security majors, much of their learning takes place outside of the classroom and in the college’s cyber security laboratories, which utilize high-end virtual workstations and cloud-based infrastructure. Students also benefit from faculty integrating state-of-the-art, commercial and open source software-based cyber security tools into the curriculum.
The program is led by world-class researchers and academics as well as adjuncts who work in security and understand the needs of industry.
“I’m a geek at heart, but I try to demystify the science so students understand how to apply IT to businesses,” said Robert Kaufman, lecturer in cyber security and a longstanding leader in the 24th Air Force’s cyber security operations both as a civilian and officer. “The labs that I do are focused on things they would see in the real world.”
Past projects have included challenging students to build multi-layered firewall defenses; tasking students with defending a business network from a disgruntled employee; and detecting and overcoming a variety of anti-forensics techniques to look for “evidence” within a specific computer.
“Once I got into this program, I fell in love with it,” said Mike Stevens, ’15, a recent cyber security graduate working for FireEye in Washington, D.C. “I love playing in the cyber security lab.” In addition the program offers a breadth of cyber security activities beyond classroom teaching and research to further challenge the students.
These include student organizations such as the Computer Security Association as well as participation in student competitions. Stevens competed for two years on UTSA’s Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition (CCDC) team, which won the Southwest Regional and advanced this year to the national finals. Beginning last fall the eight-member team of cyber security, computer science and electrical engineering students practiced together twice a week and were led by Miroslav Bartik, an adjunct instructor and security veteran with Raytheon.
“We went into this year’s competition with more competencies,” said Stevens. “We were given assigned roles or jobs within the team, and we practiced on our own to excel in these areas.”
The team was tasked with protecting computer networks against the same type of real-world cyber threats that are infiltrating major retailers, corporations, social networks and financial institutions today.
In addition, they had to also complete typical IT business tasks that were assigned to them throughout the competition.
“My courses in network security and digital forensics were the most helpful,” said Stevens. “You learn where attackers can hide, and the tools needed to protect the systems.”
“Their professionalism, skill, teamwork and tenacity were noted by many,” said Beebe, their faculty advisor. “Some even walked away with job offers following the competition, since it is a highly-recruited event.”
“Competing at CCDC was one of the best experiences I had during my time at UTSA,” said Justin Gray, ’15, an information security analyst at USAA. “I learned more about security than I had ever expected to. I met some great people and learned how much of a battle cyber security really is.”
Continuing to build upon the strong foundations of the program, several new initiatives are under way to enhance the college’s cyber security offerings. First, a new minor in digital forensics was approved to coincide with certification that UTSA received from the National Security Agency as part of UTSA’s Center for Academic Excellence designation.
Working closely with UTSA’s new Open Cloud Institute, the college is partnering with them to kick-start their cloud security center of excellence initiative as well as utilize their cloud computing platform for faculty research.
Finally, cyber security faculty are collaborating with biology and computer science faculty as part of a UTSA Department of Homeland Security $400,000 grant to offer a new certificate program in pathogenic outbreak investigations. The goal of the program is to build a future workforce that is trained to address biological and digital threats.
“I’m receiving more e-mails and phone calls from companies want- ing to talk about recruiting at UTSA,” said Au. “Our visibility is higher due to the rankings. And, this benefits out students. The demand is high for IT professionals.”
Graduates of the program are highly sought out and have been placed in governmental and private sector positions with such employers as the 24th Air Force, the Central Intelligence Agency, Chevron, Digital Defense, Federal Bureau of Investigations, H-E-B, National Security Agency, Rackspace, Raytheon, USAA and many others.
“The classes I took at UTSA gave me a great foundation of knowledge that I built upon during all of the extracurricular activities,” said Gray. “A lot of the things that I encounter every day at work were topics that we talked about in class and practiced in the labs.”
“Students graduating from our program know how to do security, while still understanding the underlying themes, theories and trade-offs,” said Beebe. “Many programs produce skilled cyber security practitioners, or people knowledgeable about cyber security, but few achieve both. UTSA’s programs do just that. And, that is why we are successful,” said Beebe.