Partnership grooms cyber pros for challenges that lie ahead

The University of Maryland and Northrop Grumman are working together to develop a college-level course to train and accredit tomorrow's cybersecurity professionals.

A partnership between the University of Maryland and Northrop Grumman is the latest effort by industry and academia to help build up the nation’s cybersecurity workforce, which is an area where demand is expected to exceed supply in the coming years.

The Advanced Cybersecurity Experience for Students is an honors program designed to turn out highly skilled individuals to fill the government’s need for cybersecurity specialists.

The program will enroll 45 students per year from diverse academic study backgrounds: majors in computer science, engineering, business, public policy and the social sciences.

Besides general studies on cybersecurity, UMD officials said the program’s curriculum will cover other topics such as cybersecurity forensics, reverse engineering, secure coding, criminology, law and public policy.

ACES will have yearlong capstone courses that will have seniors working in teams to apply their new skills to solve complex cybersecurity problems. Coursework will be augmented by summer internships working on real-world problems to develop a pipeline of talented students.

ACES’ cross-disciplinary curriculum was developed in consultation with industry. Students will work directly with government and industry cybersecurity mentors and have the option to intern with Northrop Grumman, which will prepare them for security clearances.

Northrop Grumman is providing a $1.1 million grant to launch the program and will support it for two additional years. The University of Maryland will match the amount.

Throughout the process, Northrop Grumman will provide guest lecturers, participate in an industry advisory board, present real-world problems for students to solve, and provide advisers and mentors for capstone projects.

ACES is scheduled to accept its first students at the University of Maryland’s College Park campus in the fall of 2013. Over time, additional schools in Maryland’s university system will join the effort through distance education programs, online courses, student transfers and competitions, UMD officials said.

Cybersecurity is an area of critical need for both government and industry. The federal IT security workforce could double in the next five years, and officials have expressed concern that there will not be enough skilled personnel to fill those jobs.

But universities have been adding cybersecurity to their curriculums. A number of programs, such as the National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition and the National Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity Education Initiative, have been trying to build up interest among students, even starting in elementary school.