Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Educating for a brave new economy -- homeland security in higher education

Homeland security, a concept born after the September 11th attacks, has developed into a $54 billion global market of goods and services. Several Michigan colleges and universities offer degree programs to meet emerging homeland-security needs and prepare students for employment opportunities in this brave new economy. But not all in academe are buying this idea.

Proponents of these programs see them as a way to stimulate Michigan's economy and help the state move from a heavy manufacturing economy to a knowledge-based economy. They see a golden opportunity for Michigan to take the lead in an emerging industry.

"This is a direction that could be profitable and could take Michigan out of its downward spiral," said Dan Shoemaker, professor of computer and information systems at the University of Detroit Mercy (UDM).

"This is an opportunity to move Michigan from this whole notion of the rust belt to an area that is going to continue to grow and expand. It is an area that we are not going to outsource to other countries like China or India or Russia, " said Reid Gough, dean of Davenport University's School of Technology. Davenport, which also offers degrees in network security and information assurance, hosts one of the nation's two biometric security programs. The other is at West Virginia University.

Biometric security identifies people based on unique personal characteristics such as iris scans or fingerprints. Gough and industry experts expect growing demand for biometric security systems in public and private sectors. "Homeland security is always looking for ways to make sure you are who you say you are," Gough said. He expects all U.S. passports to include biometric security features within the next two years.

According to Gough, about 85 percent of the nation's critical infrastructure is privately-owned, which points to a huge domestic market for homeland security products and services.

Davenport's program has about 700 students who will graduate equipped for positions such as chief security officer, network security analyst, network security coordinator or a biometric security manager.

UDM is recognized as a pioneer in homeland security for its program in information assurance. The university bears the distinction of being a National Security Agency (NSA) National Center of Academic Excellence. Currently, 86 schools in 34 states hold the designation through a program jointly sponsored by the NSA and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Eastern Michigan University is the only other Michigan school with the designation.

"Information assurance means protecting anything that has to do with any information of value," said Shoemaker, director of the Center for Assurance Studies at UDM. A broad concept, the field of information assurance includes hardware and software, corporate and public policy, business continuity, privacy, audits and disaster recovery.

UDM's Shoemaker has been instrumental in creating the International Cyber Security Education Coalition (ICSEC) comprising smaller schools in Michigan and Ohio, as well as London South Bank University in England. He describes ICSEC as an outreach organization that helps schools get aligned with NSA and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) standards for information assurance. These standards are promulgated in the 45-page document "IT Security Essential Body of Knowledge," released by the DHS in October.

A strong advocate for information assurance, Shoemaker says policymakers lack a thorough and integrated understanding of computer security needs and the breadth of possible security threats. He sees higher education as a way to teach future policymakers and community leaders about the necessity for information assurance and other preventive strategies.

"Homeland security is a proactive approach to securing the nation's infrastructure. You want to stop something before it happens," said Greg Gogolin, professor of information security and intelligence at Ferris State University. Five years ago, Ferris State started a master's degree program in information systems with a concentration in computer forensics and security. More recently, the school added a minor in homeland security digital forensics available to its criminal justice students, which number about 1,000.

Ferris also created the nation's first undergraduate program in information security and intelligence. Core courses include information security, data mining, GIS, visual analysis, computer forensics, risk analysis, competitive theory, and organized crime, gang and terrorist organizations.

Gogolin says the Department of Defense finance division has already started recruiting students, even though the farthest along are only juniors in the program. Looking for opportunities to expand security related training, Gogolin said, "Our digital animation and game design program is extremely popular. We're looking at leveraging that with these other degrees to create courses in computer simulation."

While some schools are aggressively pursuing programs related to homeland security, others in higher education don't see it as a panacea. "Homeland security is not a long-term solution for the economy," said Fred Pearson, director of the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies at Wayne State University.

Pearson thinks there is a role for homeland security in balance with common sense, rational thought and broad knowledge about the world. "The challenge for education is not to overspecialize. You need people who know something about politics, history, economics, sociology, even art, even if they become engineers."

Gogolin agrees. "The technology is going to come and go, but the thinking is the key piece." Students in information security at Ferris must meet foreign language requirements and take religion classes to be able to think "in different perspectives."

Pearson argues for a broader understanding of security than frequently found in technical degree programs. "Security has been argued to be related to health care, environmental quality, welfare. People are insecure when they are breathing toxic air and subject to death from various public health crises. If you really want to talk about the subject of security, it is broader than the military and it ranges into how people are secure in their lives," Pearson said.

"Terrorist attacks can happen here, but it is not happening every day. You have to look at why it is happening," Pearson said. "It can happen here again, but it doesn't call for revamping our whole social structure out of panic."