Opinion by Ira Winkler

Let's scuttle cybersecurity bachelor's degree programs

It may sound counterintuitive, but the way to increase the number of cybersecurity professionals is not to start granting degrees in cybersecurity

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First of all, up to 80% of college students change their majors in college at least once. This means that as many as 80% of the people who receive cybersecurity scholarships are likely to not want to be in the cybersecurity profession by the time that they earn their undergraduate degrees.

Worse, in a way, are the incompatible goals of an organization such as the NSA. It wants to give cybersecurity scholarships in particular to young people who have a tendency to think outside of the box. The funny thing about young people who think outside of the box: They often do things that will disqualify them for the security clearance they will need to get a job at the NSA.

Let's say that they are encouraged to develop their hacking skills. Will they resist the urge to use those skills, or will they do something like join up with Anonymous? If they do, the NSA is not going to get the benefit of their education in cybersecurity. Even more common, though, are young people who download music and other intellectual property illegally. I have heard that this has become a reason for denying clearances. What I hear is that there is a floor in the value of what was downloaded for a clearance to be denied. OK, but students who were selected because they are on the edge are probably more likely than other students to breach that floor.

When you come right down to it, there is more than a little bit of wishful thinking in this entire drive toward granting cybersecurity degrees. This is actually a case where the thing that we have been doing for years, specifically taking high-caliber people and cross-training them for cybersecurity roles, is a better approach than what has been proposed to replace it. It puts highly skilled people to immediate use, solving immediate problems. We simply have to fully commit ourselves to expanding a proven model, instead of grasping on to what is literally a science fiction plot and hoping we will get results many years from now.

Ira Winkler is president of Internet Security Advisors Group and author of the book Spies Among Us. He can be contacted through his Web site, irawinkler.com.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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