University of Guelph computer science professor Ali Dehghantanha, director of a new master’s program in cyber security, listens as the dean of the university’s College of Engineering & Physical Sciences talks about the program during a launch event at the University Centre on Thursday. – Jessica Lovell/Torstar


From simple spam to more complex data breaches with potential to disrupt businesses and government, cybersecurity threats are an ongoing concern, and it’s a concern the University of Guelph has a new program designed to address.

“It offers … an education in a field that is burgeoning,” said Charlotte Yates, U of G provost and vice-president, academic, speaking at a launch event for the new cybersecurity program on Thursday afternoon.

It’s being called the master of cybersecurity and threat intelligence, and it will welcome its first cohort of students in September. Applications to the graduate program are already being accepted from international and domestic students.

 

It’s a program that positions U of G to play a leadership role in an industry in which there is increasing demand for knowledgeable and skilled workers, Yates said.

“It also allows us to fill the gap in the labour market,” she said. “It’s in response to industry demand that this program was created.”

“We are expecting 1.5 million unfilled cybersecurity positions by 2025,” computer science Prof. Ali Dehghantanha said in a news release about the program.

“Attacks are becoming more complicated, digitalization is pervading more of our world and too little attention has been paid to educating cybersecurity professionals. These three issues together make the situation critical, and this new program will be part of the solution,” he said.

Dehghantanha will be the director of the new program, working with a small team of faculty.

The 12-month, three-semester program will take in around 25 students, who will have the advantage of getting to work directly with industry partners.“The last four months, they are in the industry,” Dehghantanha said at the launch event, explaining that students will work on a project with cybersecurity companies, focusing in on a particular area of concern.

“The whole program is a fully hands-on program,” he said. “We are solving real-world, tomorrow-morning cybersecurity problems.” The program was developed with help from an advisory board that includes U of G academic and technical teams, as well as senior leaders from global cybersecurity companies.

Industry partners include McAfee Canada, Cisco Systems, Information Systems Architects, the RCMP, BlackBerry, IBM and more. It was an easy decision for McAfee to get involved to support the new master’s program, company vice-president and country manager Bryan Rutledge said, noting the ever increasing threats to cybersecurity.

“One thing that we believe in is that we can’t solve the problem alone,” he said. Jack Pagano, regional director of cybersecurity for Cisco, said the company is thrilled to be involved in the partnership and looks forward to seeing what new ideas for dealing with cybersecurity threats might come out of the program.

“It’s a problem that’s here, it’s a problem that’s going to continue to grow and we’re going to need to deal with it,” he said. Both McAfee and Cisco provided donations of software and hardware for the program.

The master of cybersecurity students will get laptops with “cutting-edge” software and will work in a $2-million isolated lab, where they can engage with “active adversaries,” the news release said.

They will learn both the tactics used by attackers and techniques to build defence and detection systems. Admission requirement include an honours degree in computer science or computer engineering, or another discipline with a minor in computer science or computer engineering; and relevant experience with data communication and networking and computer programming. Tuition is targeted at $25,000 for domestic students and $42,000 for international students.

Students are expected to graduate as leaders in security analysis and design, threat intelligence, intrusion prevention, malware analysis, cryptography engineering and digital forensics, and more. “We need more people who are trained at the master’s level and can address these targeted attacks on critical infrastructure,” Dehghantanha said in the release.” This new program will be unique in Canada because it offers a hands-on approach to cybersecurity training. Students will be learning by doing, and this integration is what makes this program different.”

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