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Information Assurance Education—A Worldwide Security Crisis

Worldwide, the information assurance (IA) crisis is real. Despite the number of individuals capable of unleashing mass disruption on the national and international information infrastructure, not enough professionals are being educated to meet the challenges of a vulnerable critical information infrastructure (CII). Educational institutions and systems have begun to respond to the need for these professionals, but academic mechanisms and processes are too slow to satisfy the projected demand in a timely fashion. Failure to respond proactively to a similar need a decade ago has contributed to the general shortage of information technology (IT) professionals. We can ill afford to repeat this experience in information assurance.

Several nations are attempting to address their shortage of IA professionals by changing their respective immigration policies. In the United States, there has been pressure to ease the regulations dealing with immigration of foreign workers with technology skills. However, international migration d'es not solve the information security problem; it merely moves it from one economy to another.

Information Security: The Role of Education

As recently as ten years ago, only half a dozen institutions in the United States dedicated significant portions of their graduate programs to computer security and reliability. Efforts to address this deficit in graduate-level courses have been hampered by:

  • Scarcity of faculty with appropriate specialties
  • Efforts by industry to recruit the small number of existing faculty
  • Low graduate and undergraduate student enrollment
  • Lack of relevant curriculum materials
  • A need to retrain personnel already in the workforce
  • A failure to link research to ongoing educational efforts.

Without external stimulus and support, the educational system can meet the demand in the foreseeable future with individuals at all levels of competence protecting the CII. Institutions that do provide a course of study for such individuals will produce:

  • A general populace who is aware and literate in IA
  • Teachers at all levels to inculcate this knowledge and value set in students—individuals with education degrees and knowledge about IA to staff primary and secondary schools, with information systems and computer science baccalaureate degrees to staff operational needs of American commerce and government, with master's degrees to implement and design IA tools and systems, and with Ph.D.s, the primary source of educating those seeking degrees in the area and both applied and basic research.
  • Researchers to maintain competitiveness by developing and expanding the discipline and the state of the art.

Higher Education Solution

The solution lies in maximizing the output of individuals specializing in IA. These individuals will be drawn from programs in information systems, audit, and computer science. If the system fails to be able to respond to the IA challenge, there will be no significant increase of qualified graduates at any level. Research output will remain limited, and there will be little innovation in the development of programs and curriculum. Institutions expecting to produce individuals competent in IA need to meet four main goals: retain faculty, attract students, create research, and maintain modern facilities.

Attracting and Keeping Quality Students

It is imperative to attract students to programs capable of producing IA specialists. In the United States, government scholarships provided a powerful stimulant to increasing the ranks of science and engineering faculty in America's graduate schools in the 1960s. This scholarship program for IA establishes a cadre of students for the profession. To attract qualified students to these programs, institutional participation in the program should be tied directly to a professorate program.

Undergraduate Programs—Entry Level Employees. An undergraduate scholarship program appears to have the largest potential influence on the short-term problem. It is at the undergraduate level that students learn entry-level job skills. It is important to remember that:

  • More undergraduates can be produced with fewer resources
  • Undergraduates immediately enter the market as practitioners
  • Undergraduates may also participate in research on campus.

An undergraduate scholarship program in IT/IA should focus on individuals in the last two years of their baccalaureate program. Stipends should include not only tuition but also an allowance permitting students to focus on their studies. This allowance would involve participation in a "workship" with appropriate faculty and graduate students. Workships are similar to graduate assistantships in that they are in situ internships for students to support faculty research and teaching activities associated with IA.

Traditional Graduate Programs—Researchers and Teachers. In most cases, the absence of some form of graduate stipend program will contribute to the dearth of individuals in the professorate. Master's students will be involved in teaching roles while Ph.D.s are the primary source of both applied and basic research. They are the leaders in academic, government, and industry research and development. These scholarships, tied to ongoing research in the field, will attract and retain the additional students in advanced programs. It will produce additional qualified researchers, educators, and practitioners in this area. Recipients will be able to perform additional basic research during the time spent in their educational programs.

Professional Graduate Programs—Educate Current Employees. Traditional undergraduate and graduate programs alone cannot meet the need for IA professionals. Any comprehensive solution must include ongoing professional education for the in-place workforce. Yet, this professional education can interrupt the current employment and personal lives of these professionals by asking that they participate in a traditional campus-oriented experience. Internet-based education offers the solution by allowing professional students to continue their current employment without geographic relocation. This virtual institution could be expanded internationally.

Teacher Education—Begin Educating the Next Generation. The inclusion of IA and ethical use of information in our undergraduate teacher preparation curriculum is needed for future teachers. In addition, the current teacher workforce needs ongoing professional development in these topics. The development of these programs should include the creation of appropriate instructional materials for use both in the classroom and train-the-trainer programs for in-service training.

Teaching Facilities—Infrastructure to Support Education. Quality students expect quality facilities, and a quality program in IA requires both. Maintaining teaching facilities for IA is a capital-intensive problem. A cooperative program to allow participating institutions to use government-furnished equipment to supplement the instructional and research facilities would ameliorate the problem.

Retaining Faculty

No amount of student assistance will increase the production of individuals qualified in IA if the system is unable to retain faculty in academia. Nor will the system be able to create new professors fast enough in the short run. The following recommended methods would attract, retain, and reward the faculty upon whom the success of this program rests.

Professorships—To Address Faculty Retention. Ongoing professorships can allow academic institutions to augment salary offers to the finest current and potential IA faculty. Larger financial incentives elsewhere currently lure these essential leaders from academia. Retaining individuals from other disciplines would provide the critical mass to assure the supply of well-trained and educated individuals to industry and government.

Summer School—To Retrain Faculty. Producing a substantial body of new faculty is a long-lead-time activity. If academic programs were to experience an immediate and substantial increase in students demanding programs in IA, they could not respond. An academic development program for the preparation of new faculty and retraining of existing faculty from other specialties is essential to meeting the short-term demand.

Research Support

Sound research and scholarship is essential to faculty development and to maintaining the currency of quality programs. In IA, the half-life of knowledge is so brief that unless faculty are active participants in research, their knowledge becomes outdated. Strong university graduate programs rely on research funding for faculty and students. Research support from programs can supplement the funding from student scholarships and distinguished professorships.

Government—Support the Economic Infrastructure. Governments have substantial research and development needs. A synergistic link between government R&D centers and graduate and undergraduate programs will stimulate innovation and growth in IA quality. A government goal could take several forms, including a "grand challenge" program for IA, government-furnished equipment, inter-agency faculty loans, selective internships for students and faculty, cooperative grant programs to address general infrastructure and educational issues, placement of qualified government personnel in classrooms, and faculty in government using appropriate mechanisms.

Industry—Infrastructure and Technology Development. Without industry participation, the program will not meet the general needs of the IA community. In addition, there is a need for CII protection and IA efforts to be integrated into the commercial workplace. Academic-industry cooperation could include the donation of equipment for teaching and research, matching funds for student and faculty development, placement of qualified industry personnel in classrooms, and faculty in industry.

Institutional and Professional Support

Elements of IA programs exist throughout academic institutions. These programs are interdisciplinary. They involve courses and research in arts and science, business, computer science, computer information systems, engineering, informatics, law, library science, and mathematics, among others. This diversity creates career complexity for junior faculty: There are not enough senior faculty to guide them effectively through the promotion and tenure process.

The academic community cannot afford to have IA appear to be a career-limiting activity. For institutions to recognize the importance and uniqueness of this discipline and its associated research, colleges need to move toward more interdisciplinary appointments.

Time is Short

Meeting a worldwide IA infrastructure crisis is not a trivial problem, and there is no simple way to solve the problem rapidly. Encouraging the growth and increasing the capacity of current programs will realize an immediate, though small, increase in flow created by accelerating the progress of students currently in the programs. However, de novo programs may take as long as four to five years to produce the first individuals with baccalaureate degrees focusing on IA.

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