Thou­sands of open cyber­se­cu­rity posi­tions in the fed­eral gov­ern­ment under­score the fact that our nation suf­fers from a sig­nif­i­cant lack of pro­fes­sional exper­tise in this field.

Training for human resources is a major issue right now,” said Agnes Chan, asso­ciate dean of grad­uate studies in the Col­lege of Com­puter and Infor­ma­tion Sci­ences.

Chan is prin­cipal inves­ti­gator on a recent $4.5 mil­lion grant from the National Sci­ence Foun­da­tion that will extend the university’s schol­ar­ship pro­gram in infor­ma­tion assur­ance. William Robertson, assis­tant pro­fessor with joint appoint­ments in the Col­lege of Com­puter and Infor­ma­tion Sci­ence and the Col­lege of Engi­neering and David Kaeli, asso­ciate dean of under­grad­uate pro­grams in the Col­lege of Engi­neering, will serve as the grant’s co-​​principal investigators.

The Cyber­Corps: Schol­ar­ship for Ser­vice pro­gram pro­vides both under­grad­uate and grad­uate stu­dents full tuition, fees and a stipend for the final two or three years of their studies. In return, stu­dents agree to serve for two or three years in infor­ma­tion assur­ance posi­tions in the fed­eral, state or local gov­ern­ment or at a fed­er­ally funded research and devel­op­ment center.

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment, Robertson noted, is having a hard time keeping pace with the cur­rent scale of attacks against national assets. As a result, he explained, “Recruiting and devel­oping this talent is a top pri­ority at the gov­ern­ment agen­cies respon­sible for civilian and mil­i­tary cybersecurity.”

The stu­dents in the pro­gram, Roberts explained, will also have the oppor­tu­nity to work on con­crete topics related to broad areas like mobile secu­rity and secure system design. He noted that Northeastern’s secu­rity researchers have active projects in a number of these areas.

Through their intern­ships and co-​​op posi­tions, stu­dents also have access to broad research oppor­tu­ni­ties. Ryan Whelan, for example, a com­puter engi­neering doc­toral can­di­date in the pro­gram, interned with a cyber­se­cu­rity group at MIT Lin­coln Lab­o­ra­tory. The lab is now spon­soring his research in dynamic-​​software analysis and the expe­ri­ence, he said, con­firmed his interest in the field.

The SFS pro­gram helped focus my studies and inter­ests on cyber­se­cu­rity,” Whelan said.

But, Chan said, skills in the tech­nical and com­puter sci­ences alone will not pre­pare a stu­dent for a suc­cessful career as a cyber defender. “Our pro­gram is diverse in every respect — we’re able to train stu­dents whose back­ground is not tech­nical to under­stand what cyber­se­cu­rity is all about and to use the tools,” she explained.

Human­i­ties stu­dents are ideal can­di­dates for infor­ma­tion assur­ance posi­tions,” added Samuel Jenkins, who enrolled in the master’s pro­gram with an under­grad­uate degree in polit­ical science.

Jenkins recently accepted a posi­tion with the Exec­u­tive Office of the Pres­i­dent, and will pro­vide infor­ma­tion tech­nology and other infra­struc­ture ser­vices to the White House. While the job will require the soft com­mu­ni­ca­tions skills he honed in his under­grad­uate training, Jenkins said he was hired for the tech­nical skills he acquired in the SFS program.

The award fol­lows on the heels of Northeastern’s recent des­ig­na­tion as one of four National Center of Aca­d­emic Excel­lence in Cyber Oper­a­tions. The project, Kaeli said, is “per­fectly aligned with the university’s mis­sion to become an inter­na­tional leader in the field of cybersecurity.”