GVSU looking to combine cybersecurity with job security

Grand Valley State University cybersecurity students on Feb. 2, 2017.

ALLENDALE, Mich. (WOOD) — The security of our computer and information systems is at the top of everyone’s agenda whether it’s in business, national defense or electoral process.

With that in mind, Grand Valley State University is beefing up its master’s level programs to provide West Michigan with a new crop of highly trained cyber-warriors starting next fall.

The program at Grand Valley is not simply a major in cybersecurity instead it is a way to make protecting systems a compliment to every part of computer science and information technology from coding to managing IT networks to cyber-policing.

Paul Leidig, director of the School of Computing and Information Systems, agrees that it is likely that at some point somebody is going to try and hack into the computer system of every business that has an online presence.

“It probably already has and you didn’t know it,” Leidig said.

GVSU is hiring more staff and expanding computer resources for a program they believe will be in high demand.

“Security of your information should be at the heart of every program you write and every piece of data,” Leidig said.

The cybersecurity and big data job field is growing with no sign of stopping with the government reporting average salaries of $110,000 and graduates starting at $70,000.

There are numerous applications beyond writing programming or solving IT issues.

“Digital forensics, which is a very in demand area right now, how to search for evidence on computer systems,” said Andrew Kalafut, a GVSU associate professor specializing in cybersecurity. “Somebody that might be hired in an FBI position for example.”

The cat and mouse game between hackers and cybersecurity likely means job security for these grads.

“This is what makes the field fun is that it’s never ending,” Kalafut said. “The people trying to attack us are smart, we can’t pretend that they’re not, when we come up with a defense for the current type of attacks, they’re going to come up with a new attack.”

Mackenzie Foss, a GVSU student from Rockford, said she is looking to secure systems in health care.

“You have a direct impact on protecting the patient information and protecting the people who are in the hospital and stuff so that feels very important to me,” Foss said.

The classes don’t just teach how to use tools but how to think about security, evaluate the problem and come up with a solution.

“I don’t want to say the world’s a big game, but when you look at it as it’s my job to defend and it’s their job to attack, I want to be the one with the best defense so I can’t possibly lose,” said Jordan Zomerlei, a GVSU student from Jenison.

Michigan State University and University of Michigan both have major cybersecurity centers.

Michigan is also home to five universities designated by the National Security Agency as a “National Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance,” including Farris State and Davenport universities.