Repeated breaches of personal data. Questions about the integrity of election results. The perils and challenges of securing sensitive information in the digital age have never been more apparent.
The multiplying threats to critical data and systems has led to soaring demand for professionals with the skills to combat cyberattacks. The University of Washington is helping meet this growing need with the new Essentials of Cybersecurity program, offered online through the popular edX platform.
Filling the Gap
For years, computer security experts have been talking about the acute need for more training in this field. One of these voices comes from Barbara Endicott-Popovsky, executive director of the UW Center for Information Assurance & Cybersecurity.
“We have an incredible cybersecurity talent gap,” said Endicott-Popovsky, who is also the founder and lead instructor for the Certificate in Information Security & Risk Management. “In the United States alone, there are two jobs for every person employed in the field. It’s estimated that in the next three to five years, you're going to see a million cybersecurity jobs go unfilled.”
Employment projections back this up, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicating that information security jobs will grow at a rate of 18 percent over the next decade. And because of the lack of qualified professionals, people with the right skills can command relatively high compensation — mean salaries in the sector have reached an estimated $108,000, according to the labor market analytics firm Burning Glass.
Increasing Access to Training
One way to attract a wider audience to any field is by making training more readily available, such as through a massive open online course, or MOOC. This is the thinking behind the new Essentials of Cybersecurity, a four-course professional certificate program.
“The demand is so high that it takes something like a MOOC, which has broad reach, to really begin to scale the skills and the number of people who we are going to need,” said Endicott-Popovsky, who helped develop the new program and is one of two featured instructors.
The four certificate courses are self-paced, allowing busy professionals to study on their own schedule. Students can take the courses individually for free or pay $79 per course for verification, which is required to earn the official certificate.
Finding Your Place in the Field
The advantage of a MOOC is that students can delve into a new subject before they commit to a more in-depth certificate or degree program. The Introduction to Cybersecurity, the first course in the Essentials of Cybersecurity program, offers this very opportunity.
We have an incredible cybersecurity talent gap.
Barbara Endicott-Popovsky, Executive Director, UW Center for Information Assurance & Cybersecurity
“The first course is specifically designed to help people find their cybersecurity swim lane,” Endicott-Poposky noted. “There are at least 31 career pathways that the National Institute of Standards has defined for cybersecurity. This course will give you the literacy to decide whether this field is for you or not.”
The desire and demand for this kind of knowledge is not limited to technical roles, she added. “We aren’t just talking to people who have an interest in technology,” she said. “People in fields like public relations and the law have come to recognize that this issue impacts their professions as well. I wouldn’t exclude anyone from taking this course.”
Continuing Your Cybersecurity Education
“What I hope is that people take this MOOC and get a sense of the field and get excited enough that they want more,” Endicott-Popovsky said.
For those who want a more in-depth examination of the subject, there are a variety of options. UW Professional & Continuing Education offers three full certificate programs in the field: the Certificate in Cybersecurity, the Certificate in Information Security & Risk Management and the Certificate in Ethical Hacking.
There are also undergraduate programs and graduate degrees, including the Master of Cybersecurity & Leadership at UW Tacoma and the Master of Science in Cyber Security Engineering at UW Bothell.
“We’re going to make certain that, by the end of the last class in the MOOC, people know where to go next,” Endicott-Popovsky noted. “And I would guess that anybody who makes it all the way through is interested enough to dive deeper.”