Iowa Board of Regents

ISU Cyber Security Programs Get an Upgrade

At its June meeting, the Board of Regents will consider proposals to change Iowa State’s master’s degree programs in information assurance to master’s programs in cyber security. It’s a small name change, but it’s a change that reflects the evolving nature of the field and the rapidly expanding fight to ensure systems and information are secure. 

This fall, Iowa State will enroll its first undergraduate students in its new cyber security engineering major, a forward-thinking program that seeks to fill a major demand for cyber security professionals in the coming years. ISU will become just the third university in the nation to offer a dedicated cyber security engineering major, adding to its decades-long history of leadership in the field. Renaming the master’s programs brings ISU’s cyber security programs under one moniker and will help provide cohesion as the programs expand to fill demand.

“We’re very excited about it,” said Doug Jacobson, University Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and faculty leader of the program. “It’s something that can help separate Iowa State from other schools. The demand for this major and the students we produce will be quite high.”

ISU expects modest enrollment numbers this fall, but forecasts exponential growth as the major becomes better-known. The major will not only expand Iowa State’s already impressive cyber security program, but fill demand for workers in a field undergoing explosive growth.

“The need for cyber security people is large,” Jacobson said. “The companies that already hire our students are excited about the major. They only wish that we could produce more students than we do.”

ISU’s new major and existing program offers a new perspective on solving cyber security problems. Specifically, applying the engineering mindset to the cyber security field. Instead of seeing these problems as individual complications with specific solutions, an engineer’s approach looks at whole systems to identify complex problems that affect entire systems.

“The systems we’re securing are extremely complex, from the power grid to the internet of things to autonomous cars,” 
Jacobson said. “We can’t treat cyber as a set of point solutions, it needs to be treated as a large systems problem. That’s what engineers are good at.”

Jacobson expects ISU’s first bachelor’s degree in cyber security engineering will be awarded in fall 2020, as current students in other majors transfer in. Iowa State, Jacobson notes, is the perfect place to foster this kind of program.

“ISU has one of the oldest and largest cyber security programs in the country and has always been at the forefront of engineering education,” Jacobson said. “It makes perfect sense, then, to combine the two and create this degree in cyber security engineering to build on these two great strengths of Iowa State.”

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