“Behind every new hack or data breach, there’s a company scrambling to put out the fire. That’s good news for job seekers with cybersecurity skills. Every year in the U.S., 40,000 jobs for information security analysts go unfilled. Employers can’t hire them fast enough.”

– Forbes Magazine

The headlines on cybercrime are staggering. Three billion Yahoo records were accessed by criminals. Half of all U.S. household owners had their private information stolen through a breach of JP Morgan Chase. Criminals gained the personal information of 143 million citizens by breaching Equifax, and the list goes on. Cybercrime has been called the greatest threat to every company in the world.

In a relentless and global attack, cybercriminals are stealing credit card numbers and personal information, infecting computers with viruses and gaining control of infrastructure systems. Worse yet, many organizations are not equipped to stop them. 

Northland Pioneer College is taking the lead among Arizona’s community col-leges in addressing this ultra-serious problem as the first to launch a program that trains students for careers in cybersecurity.

“You expect to see cybercrime in bigger places, but it hits close to home too. We’re seeing cyberattacks here in Northeastern Arizona, of all places,” says Eric Bishop, professor of Computer Information Systems
(CIS) at NPC. Under his direction, NPC is now offering a full cybersecurity specialist program, which he expects to grow quickly in the coming years.

The proliferation of cyberattacks throughout the world is nothing short of astounding. 2016 was the worst year on record for cyberattacks with more than 4,000 confirmed breaches exposing 4.2 billion records! As if these figures aren’t scary enough, cyberattacks were on pace to double that in 2017, putting the confidential information of billions at risk. The cost of cybercrime damage worldwide is projected to reach $6 trillion by 2021.

In 2017 there were 350,000 open cybersecurity positions in the U.S., including 7,000 in Arizona. That number is pro-jected to multiply 10 times over, to 3.5 million, by the year 2021, according to an estimate by Cybersecurity Ventures. NPC is ready to help train students to meet that challenge.

Bishop says, “It’s going to continue to get worse for quite some time. A projected 500 billion electronic devices tied to the internet will be at risk of attack, and there is no magic fix. The only way to fight it is to fill cybersecurity job vacan-cies.” It’s crucial that America’s colleges and universities train a cybersecurity workforce because businesses face cyberattacks every day, and there is a desperate need for more qualified techni-cians to provide safeguards against these attacks.

“The bigger issue is not the rapid advances in technology but the rapid adoption of internet-connected devices like thermostats, sensors, lights and other ‘smart’ functions that create more opportunities for crackers. Security is difficult to implement because it is almost impossible to think of everything that can
go wrong and even harder to eliminate all the bugs. There is no such thing as error-free software. Any time there is a major change in software or hardware, that’s when we see the problems.”

The stepson of a software engineer, Bishop was programming computers as a third-grader. Later, as a U.S. Marine stationed in Yuma, the Corps utilized his computing expertise for its website man-agement. Bishop earned a master’s degree in computer information systems from Boston University and owned a web host-ing company. He began teaching CIS at NPC in 2006 and also served as the college’s chief information officer from 2010-15.

In addition to teaching CIS classes at NPC, Bishop also teaches part-time in Boston University’s (BU) prestigious CIS master’s program. Two of his associates from BU also serve as CIS faculty at NPC,
and Bishop plans to add more instructors to the cybersecurity program as well. NPC courses include labs, lectures and a great online learning experience through the Arizona Cyber Warfare Range. Some field trips are already planned for  the range locations in Mesa and Phoenix, which provide students with realistic, simulated cyber-attacks and training on how to combat them. Bishop says cybersecurity is a field that developed from the combined under-standing of computer technology and computer programming.

NPC is working with the state univer-sities to make the Associate of Applied Science in Cybersecurity degree fully transferable for students seeking a bachelor’s degree.

Bishop says, “75-80 percent of cyber-security openings require a bachelor’s degree. Students interested in entry-level positions most likely need to go on to earn a four-year degree, which is important in this field.” 

The advantage for students who start their degree at NPC is that they can complete the first two years of a bachelor’s degree and save more than $18,000 in just university tuition alone. CIS classes are available at the Show Low campus as well as online.

NPC also offers a 45-credit Certificate in Applied Science (CAS) and an 18-credit Certificate of Proficiency (CP) in Cyber-security that allows people working at local businesses to gain the skills needed to protect their company’s privacy. 

“The certificates give students a basic foundation in technology and cybersecurity and helps enhance existing IT careers by learning more about information security,” Bishop says. “They can also help students prepare for the CompTIA Network+ and Security+ national certification tests. These certifications can help advance a student’s career.” 

The CP program helps students understand how technology is used in the workplace, provides an overview and foundation at a broad level of understanding of the cybersecurity discipline and teaches students how to develop plans and pro-cesses for a holistic approach to providing information security for organizations. It also focuses on network security, compli-ance and operational security, threats and vulnerabilities, access control, cryptogra-phy and identity management. 

The CAS program includes more courses in general information technology and cybersecurity. Bishop says, “The CAS is appropriate for someone who really wants to get into an entry-level cyber-security career and provides them with a stronger foundation in information technology. It also helps students under-stand what area they would like to specialize in for a cybersecurity career.”

Bishop says cybersecurity students need a good aptitude and familiarity with technology and how it’s used in today’s world, but they don’t need any specialized skills to get into the Cybersecurity program. This fall, NPC will offer Information Security Fundamentals (CIS 130), Com-puter Applications and Information Technology (CIS 105), Effective Communication with Digital Media (CIS 125), and Micro-soft Operating Systems (CIS 161).

This program will prepare students with skills vital to public interest, skills that can protect communities, corporations and private citizens. Students armed with an NPC cybersecurity education will
become “white hats,” the good guys who protect against attacks on your security. They’ll provide protections against “black hats,” or “crackers,” who are trying to find security flaws and technological weaknesses to exploit for criminal purposes. 

“This is one field that is growing really fast,” Bishop says, “and schools can’t keep up with the demand. I see great job opportunities for students that come with large rewards and job stability. The cybersecurity field is not only for someone who wants to start a new career, but also for someone who may want to move into it from another area of experience such as law enforcement, business, finance and more,” Bishop adds.

In the Phoenix metro area, the median annual salary for analysts is $76,300, according to the Cyber Security Masters Degree website. But the most experienced and highest degree holders can earn as much as $180,000 per year. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a median annual wage of $92,600 with 28-percent growth through 2026. The demand for skilled cybersecurity employees is so high that 80 percent of the people currently working in the field are receiving unsolicited job offers from other employers
each week! 

This dynamic new field of study offered at NPC provides truly great career opportunities for residents of Northeastern Arizona. If you have the interest and the aptitude for this type of work, speak to an NPC academic adviser today and find out how to enroll in NPC’s exciting cybersecurity program.