Cedric Cochin, senior research architect at MacAfee Labs takes his turn at instructing the "Defense Against the Dark Arts" cybersecurity class at Oregon State.

Another minute, another 307 cyber threats — it’s a problem that Oregon State and Intel Security have teamed up to do something about.

The need for computer scientists and engineers trained in cybersecurity is growing rapidly. For example, the number of malware exploits increased by 76 percent compared to the prior year, according to a 2014 report by McAfee Labs, part of Intel Security.

Meeting the threat

Recognizing the urgency for curriculum on the topic, the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science has been building its program in cybersecurity, including hiring four new faculty who specialize in cryptography, security protocols and network security.

Intel Security was the perfect partner to add to the cybersecurity curriculum at Oregon State, having already developed a course called “Defense Against the Dark Arts,” taught by Intel field experts at California Polytechnic State University.

“We are passionate about this field of work and study, and believe that one of the best avenues for combating cybercrime is to educate the next wave of university graduates with the skills necessary to make the cyber world a safer place,” said Candace Worley, senior vice president and general manager for Endpoint Security at Intel Security.

One of Oregon State’s graduates, Carey Buelt, senior manager of data operations at Intel Security, led the effort to bring the class to Oregon State when he first heard of it. In addition to his regular job, Buelt serves as the Intel Security liaison to Oregon State and felt the cybersecurity class would be a great opportunity for the students to learn from top experts in the field.

“Oregon State gave me so much during my time there that I wanted to give something back.  If I look at it simply from a talent-pipeline perspective, it's strategically located near one of our largest engineering sites here in Beaverton, so that allows us to tap into talent we may not have had access to,” Carey said.

Hands-on learning

Students, Rachael Carlson and John Zeller, were two of the 60 students who clamored to get into the class, hungry for the knowledge of topics like malware and defenses against them; software vulnerabilities; network, web and mobile security tools and techniques.

“The course material applies to pretty much any job. Understanding how these exploits are executed is a huge step in the right direction for me. Before it seemed like black magic,” said Zeller, a computer science major, who will work for Datadog, a cloud monitoring service, after graduation.

Both students said the hands-on learning is one of the best aspects of the class that is half lecture and half lab. The instructors are able to provide an exclusive opportunity for students to work with current examples of cyber attacks such as the case in which Sony Pictures was hacked.

A total of nine instructors teach for a week or two each on their topic of expertise. Carlson, an electrical and computer engineering major, said the format has given her an opportunity to learn a full range of topics, and she also enjoys finding out what the different instructors do in their jobs. The experience has influenced her ideas for a future career.

“I’m definitely more interested in network security. It has been one of my interests, but I wasn’t sure what you’d actually do as an employee, so it’s really opened my eyes,” she said. Previously, she had not realized that companies have entire teams dedicated to security. In fact, both students admitted to being surprised at just how prevalent cyber attacks have become.

It was exactly that kind of awareness that Buelt wanted the class to provide for a new generation of students entering technology fields.

“I'm hoping that this class gives them a real look at the security problems we face, and will start them thinking of how they can protect themselves and people they will be working for. This is not just an Intel Security benefit, this will benefit everybody in the industry,” Buelt said.

Future directions

One class in cybersecurity will not fix the overwhelming problem of too few trained professionals. The global shortage of cybersecurity professionals is projected to be at least two million by 2017, according to a special Parliamentary Select Committee in the United Kingdom’s House of Lords.

Oregon State is actively building their program to provide needed training in the area of cybersecurity and has partnered with other Oregon universities to create a comprehensive strategy for the state. The newly formed Oregon Cybersecurity Consortium, which also includes the University of Oregon, Portland State University and Oregon Institute of Technology, has already secured funding from the Engineering Technology and Industry Council (ETIC) that supported the “Defense Against the Dark Arts” class.

The Consortium is pursuing more grants to further the mission of the Consortium to meet the security needs of local industries. Each university has a complementary focus to contribute to the overall mission, and for Oregon State that is providing professional cybersecurity development through advanced classes and internships.

“The partnership with Intel Security on this first course is a great example of what can be accomplished with academic and industry collaboration. We see it as just the first step to building a world-class program in cybersecurity that will provide major benefits to Oregon companies and the state overall,” said Terri Fiez, director of strategic initiatives and professor for the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.