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Cybersecurity efforts keep growing

National Cybersecurity Awareness Month
UNG is offering a reverse engineering course for the first time this fall. They are learning how hackers gain access to computer systems and how to take apart viruses and ransomware from the inside out.

With a bachelor's degree in cybersecurity that launched this fall and the Center for Cyber Operations Education (CCOE) thriving on campus, the University of North Georgia (UNG) is a major player in the field entering National Cybersecurity Awareness Month this October.

Ash Mady, department head of computer science and information systems at UNG, said UNG's cybersecurity offerings educate students on the tools they will use in the field upon graduation and help them be prepared for the demands of such jobs.

In September, CyberSeek.org indicated almost 11,000 cybersecurity jobs open in Georgia, from among more than 300,000 nationwide. Cybersecurity is listed in the Governor's High Demand Career Initiative Report.

"We're giving the industry exactly what they're looking for," Mady said. "We are truly being part of the solution by supplying people who are capable to offset the shortages in this area."

And it's clear from the broad swath of cybersecurity initiatives that UNG will remain a major player in the field.

"It's not just a flash in the pan or a response to a buzzword or a personal initiative," Mady said. "It's a very well-structured approach for a long-term process."

The continued growth of cyber efforts at UNG is evident in a wide variety of opportunities this fall.

The university is offering a reverse engineering course for the first time. In the class, Dr. Bryson Payne, professor of computer science and CCOE director, is teaching students how hackers gain access to computer systems and how to take apart viruses and ransomware from the inside out. Guest speakers from the FBI and National Security Agency (NSA) have visited the class to share what's expected in their field and give students information about internships.

Payne said reverse engineering is one of the most in-demand specializations in cybersecurity, and UNG is one of the first universities in the state to include the course in its curriculum.

"These 19 students are getting skills they can put to use with the FBI, NSA or companies like Lockheed, Coca-Cola and the Southern Company," Payne said.

Students are getting to work in this class with the type of software these government agencies and large companies use.

UNG is also partnering with the FBI Atlanta Computer Intrusion Squad and businesses to conduct a statewide cyber threat survey.

"The FBI is only going to work with people who they've vetted for their level of quality and commitment to this discipline," Mady said.

Among the other cyber efforts this fall are a variety of chances for UNG to share its expertise and for its students to gain a deeper knowledge of the field:

  • Payne will present a paper on his car hacking research at this month's Conference on Cybersecurity Education, Research & Practice (CCERP).
  • UNG will host the Atlanta Cyber Challenge online from 9 a.m. Oct. 10 through 9 a.m. Oct. 12, a capture-the-flag-style event where contestants can earn points to try to win a $10,000 cash prize. DataPath and USI Insurance Services are the platinum sponsors for the event, which will feature 98 cyber challenges. "People will pick up new skills," Payne said. "That's a great opportunity for our students and other cyber students from across the state."
  • The CCOE is partnering with Water Dragons Consulting to hold "Assessing Business Cyber Risk — Simulation for Business Leaders" on Oct. 8 in Atlanta. It's a training and evaluation tool that will allow business leaders to better under the cyber threats they could face. Leaders will work through a scenario where they have to collect and analyze intelligence before giving actionable intelligence to government or business decision-makers.
  • Students who are part of UNG's Cyber Hawks, the school's cyber competition teams, regularly participate in conferences to learn more about their planned profession, as well as welcoming guest speakers to their weekly meetings. One of their major events is the Information Systems Security Association (ISSA) international conference Oct. 17-18 in Atlanta. Another was the Hacker Halted event last month in Atlanta, where the Cyber Hawks had eight attendees, up from two a year ago.

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