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Malware beware: cyber security is on the rise at UW Bothell

  • Written by Kirsten Abel, Features Writer

“A lot of times people have this idea that cyber security is just sitting behind a computer typing madly and stopping hackers, but it’s really not like that at all,” said Marc Dupuis, an assistant pro-fessor at University of Washington Bothell who teaches in the school’s up-and-coming Master of Science in Cyber Security Engineering program.

Students who earn a master’s degree in cyber security engineer-ing go on to get a variety of software and security engineering jobs. Some might go on to become a company’s chief information security officer. Some may become security engineers at Amazon or Microsoft. Others may go into research.   

“Our program is unique in that we don’t ignore the non-technical side, the human side of things,” Dupuis said. “We really try to develop well-rounded students.”

Since the program’s inception four years ago, UW Bothell has graduated eight stu-dents. Now, over 30 students are on track to  earn degrees.

The curriculum, which is unique   to   the   school’s    Bothell campus, takes about two full-time years to complete. Coursework includes topics like cryptography, ethics, internet security, mobile network security, and machine learning.

“There’s a lot of inter-action between those that are doing straight computer science and those that want to focus on cyber security,” Dupuis said.

All students in the program also conduct some kind of research project. One of Dupuis’s students developed a new way to provide feedback to people as they create a password.

Instead of providing general feedback about password strength or weakness, the student built a process that told users how strong or weak their passwords were compared to other users in the system. It turned out that this kind of peer-to-peer comparison actually caused people to make more secure passwords, Dupuis said.

Many students who get into the cyber security engineering program already have a bachelor’s degree in computer science or a related field. However, not all do.

“We’ve had some students that have backgrounds in anthropology and other fields that have nothing to do with computer science,” Dupuis said.

For those students, UW Bothell offers a Graduate Certificate in Software Design and Development. The certificate gives students with bachelor’s degrees in subjects unrelated to computer   science a solid base  in  software  engineering.

“It’s a pretty accelerated, in-depth program,” said Megan Jewell, the Director of Graduate Academic Services at UW Bothell in the School of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

The certificate takes one year to complete and the coursework is built upon itself, meaning students need the skills learned in the first set of courses to continue on to the next set.
“By the time they finish with the program, they’re really ready for an entry level software engineering position,” Jewell said. About half of those that earn the certificate go into the workforce. The other half continues on to earn graduate level degrees.

With more and more information and data being stored online, it’s easy to see why the cyber security field is growing so rapidly. Election hacking and other smaller-scale events like identity theft bring to light how important it is to be able to protect what we put online.

“If you’re an organization that is involved in national defense, you’re going to expect to be targeted by foreign entities,” Dupuis said. But even companies and individuals who don’t have trade secrets at stake can still be at risk.

Take ransomware, for example. It’s an increasingly common type of malware that infects a computer and encrypts what the hacker believes to be important files on that computer. If the person or company affected wants access to those files, they must pay a fee for a code to unlock the data. Both individuals and organizations, including hospitals, have been targeted.
“I consider it probably one of the nastiest types of malware out there,” Dupuis said. “Backups are probably one of the most important things anyone can do.” Backups and stronger passwords.

For more information about UW Bothell’s Master of Science programs or its Graduate Certificate in Software Design and Development, visit www.uwb.edu/stem.

“There’s a lot going on in cyber security in Bothell,” Jewell said. “It’s a really exciting time.”

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