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First Cyber Engineering Semester completed by inaugural cohort

December 14, 2011

Kelly Homan Rodoski
(315) 443-3784

On Dec. 14, Syracuse University celebrated the completion of its Cyber Engineering Semester program by the first cohort. The program—the first of its kind in the nation—prepares students to design, build and verify highly assured systems and to meet the cybersecurity challenges in today’s world.

The Cyber Engineering Semester program is an 18-credit undergraduate course of study offered by Syracuse University’s L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science (LCS). The program is jointly taught by SU faculty and researchers from the Air Force Research Laboratory-Information Directorate (AFRL) in Rome, N.Y. Kamal Jabbour, Air Force senior scientist for information assurance, conceived the program and worked with LCS faculty members and researchers to develop curricula.

The program is relevant to the Cyberspace Warriors Act, a bill proposed earlier in June by U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. The bill calls for the Secretary of Defense to work with an independent research organization to study the department’s requirements for cybersecurity personnel, as well as needs for education and retention.

“Cyberwarfare is an emerging threat that could affect every aspect of our national and economic security,” Gillibrand says. “Terrorists could shut down electric grids in the middle of winter, zero-out bank accounts, or take down a stock exchange causing an unimaginable amount of disruption and harm. Syracuse University’s Cyber Engineering Program will harness some of America’s brightest minds, cutting-edge facilities and world-class knowhow to develop the talent we need to protect our national security, right here in New York.”

“We are truly excited about the Cyber Engineering Semester as it leverages a strength within the University and builds on an established partnership with AFRL to help solve a pressing need of national importance. This program is designed to address the mission assurance needs within the Department of Defense and to create a strong cyberengineering workforce,” says SU Vice Chancellor and Provost Eric F. Spina. “Syracuse University has a long and storied history of responding to defense and security needs of our nation, in a timely fashion, and frequently with our partners at Rome Lab.”

“L.C. Smith has one of the strongest cybersecurity faculty groups in the United States. By partnering with the Air Force Research Laboratory, we are able provide an intensive semester of learning to SU and ROTC students from around the country to help defend against this threat to American military and economic security,” says Laura Steinberg, dean of the college. “The L.C. Smith faculty members involved in this program have worked for many years with members of the AFRL staff, and together they have created a unique program to address the pressing regional and national need for technically trained cybersecurity experts.”

Jabbour says full attention must be placed on the need for cyberengineering in today’s world. “In the same fashion that engineers and scientists recognized the importance of space to national security in the second half of the 20th century, we acknowledge the critical role of cyberengineering to national security in the new millennium,” says Jabbour. “We must evolve from the original concept of cybersecurity as a supported domain into the reality of cyberoperations as a supporting domain. We need a cadre of professionals educated with breadth of science, social sciences and humanities, and depth in physics, engineering, math and cyber operations, who can meet the challenges of the dynamic domain of cyberspace.”

The technically and mathematically rigorous program is similar to a semester abroad in that it fully immerses participants—both civilian and ROTC students from across the country—into cyberengineering topics and culture. Within the five courses they take during the semester, students are introduced to the fundamentals of computer architecture, with an emphasis on security measures; learn about major subsystems and concepts of operating systems and networks; and learn about theory, practice and tools for building highly assured systems. They are also taught to design and implement hardware to preserve the confidentiality and integrity of data and hone their skills through technical discussion, problem solving, writing and public speaking. In addition to the five courses, the students are engaged in an internship with the AFRL.

“In the class, we educate them on the science; in the internship, we educate them on the art of cyberwarfare,” says Jabbour. Instructors use case studies of past historical events, such as Gettysburg, the Space Shuttle disasters and 9/11 to help students sharpen their practical thinking skills and understand the strategic decisions that had to be made in those situations. Breaking into systems is as much a part of their education as fixing them. At the completion of the program, they are invited to apply for a 10-week summer internship at the AFRL.

Six students—four from SU, one from Texas A&M University and one from Michigan Technical University—comprised the initial program cohort. Jabbour expects the program to expand in size next year, and sees this as a first step towards offering a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity engineering in the future.

The Cyber Engineering Semester is the latest collaboration between SU and the AFRL. Ten years ago, Jabbour created the Advanced Course in Engineering (ACE) Cybersecurity Boot Camp to develop students into future cybersecurity leaders. More than 200 students graduated from the ACE program, which ran for eight years. SU and the AFRL also collaborated in developing a cybersecurity K-12 curriculum, which was piloted at Rome Catholic High School in Rome, N.Y. in 2006. That curriculum is now deployed at more than 40 schools around the country.

The Cyber Engineering Semester is open to undergraduates with junior or senior status who have a background in computer science, computer engineering or electrical engineering. Students must have completed appropriate prior coursework and have a grade point average of 3.5 or higher. Students must also be eligible for entry into military installations. The courses have been designed to transfer to other institutions.

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