When creating its Center for Cybersecurity several years ago, Fordham sought to boost public awareness of cyber risks and help address the dire shortage of cybersecurity professionals.
Now the University is taking new steps to achieve these goals—by helping historically Black colleges and universities and minority-serving institutions develop similar programs of their own.
Strengthening cybersecurity programs at these institutions is the goal of the Cybersecurity Education Diversity Initiative Coalition, or CEDI, and in September, the National Security Agency (NSA) named Fordham as CEDI’s lead academic institution.
The NSA also awarded a $3 million grant to the Fordham-led effort.
“It has been known nationwide that there is a shortage in resources and expertise and opportunities for these minority institutions, and the NSA wants to shorten that gap,” said Thaier Hayajneh, Ph.D., director of Fordham’s cybersecurity center.
Hayajneh and Amelia Estwick, Ph.D., director of the National Cybersecurity Institute at Excelsior College, will serve as CEDI’s co-chairs.
About half of the grant will support institutions with cybersecurity programs as they devise plans to help minority- serving institutions develop their own programs, with the CEDI co-chairs overseeing their efforts, Hayajneh said.
The rest of the funds will directly support cybersecurity program development at historically Black colleges and universities and minority-serving institutions. The “ultimate goal,” Hayajneh said, is for these programs to earn a designation for national excellence in cybersecurity education that Fordham received from the NSA in 2017.
The coalition will help with curriculum support, guest lecturers, faculty hires, advisers and mentors for students, and opportunities to take part in competitions and other cybersecurity activities, he said.
Cybersecurity Is Everyone’s Business
Students, particularly those from underrepresented communities, can be intimidated by cybersecurity, thinking it involves only computer science and programming, Hayajneh said.
One way to address that misconception is to attract students from other disciplines, including business, criminal justice, and political science.
“The NSA and other agencies have realized that there’s a huge shortage in the cybersecurity workforce, so they are trying to encourage more of what we call the ‘soft side of cyber’ and encourage students from other disciplines to come to cyber,” he said. “Cybersecurity is way beyond just malware detection or operating system security.”
A Global Hub for Cyber Resilience
The University’s expertise in cybersecurity spans academic disciplines and departments, including those at the Gabelli School of Business and Fordham Law School. Fordham offers a master’s degree program in cybersecurity that has more than tripled in enrollment since 2016, two computer science master’s degree programs with an emphasis on cybersecurity, and a minor for undergraduates.
Since 2009, Fordham has also partnered with the FBI every 18 months to host the International Conference on Cyber Security, or ICCS, which features presentations by university researchers, top security and law enforcement officials, and executives from companies like IBM, Microsoft, and Google. The July 2019 conference featured the directors of the FBI and NSA as well as the U.S. attorney general.
Hayajneh, an expert on systems security, directs the master’s degree program and frequently collaborates with students on research. In one recent study, he and a student team devised a way to use blockchain technology to secure data collected from heart pacemakers, insulin pumps, and other cyber-physical systems. Their paper, published in the Journal of Medical Systems, has been cited nearly 200 times by other scholars since 2018.
Fordham’s program emphasizes competency-based learning and applied research to stay ahead of the latest threats and ever-rising cybercrime. “It makes students very successful when they go and seek jobs in the market,” Hayajneh said.
“We can’t just teach students math, programming, and then they can go and learn on the job. Nobody will hire you and give you their network to learn and to experiment with them,” he said. “Simple mistakes could bankrupt the whole company and cost them millions and billions of dollars.”
Graduates of the master’s program are working as software developers, digital forensic examiners, and directors of cybersecurity, among other roles. Their employers range from the United Nations to Con Edison, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation, and Marvel Entertainment.
Ileana van der Linde is an executive director at JPMorgan Chase, where she leads the asset and wealth management group’s global cybersecurity awareness program and works to educate the firm’s clients about cyber risks. In 2018, she joined Hayajneh to lead a seminar on cybersecurity for individuals and small business owners in the Bronx. She had been studying to become a certified information systems security professional, but after learning about the Fordham program, she decided to enroll part time.
She was drawn to Fordham’s designation as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education, she said, and to the “robust classroom discussion and networking” opportunities she found at the University. Her classmates include seasoned executives from the New York City Police Department, the FBI, and the NSA, as well as junior professionals and students she describes as “great programmers.”
“It’s a very big difference between what Fordham has and what other schools are offering,” she said.
—Kelly Kultys, FCRH ’15, is an assistant editor of this magazine.