Cyber attacks and hacking are commonly found in headlines for national stories but that doesn’t mean businesses in Starved Rock Country are off the hook.
“You always think, ‘OK I hear this on the national level whether it’s voting being hacked or a large company like a Sony or a Microsoft but they don’t care about my mom and pop operation,’ but they actually do,” said Illinois Valley Community College computer networking instructor and program coordinator Gina Elias. “A hacker is going to attack a small business because the security isn’t as high, you may not be up to date on your updates, you don’t know your equipment or that you’re vulnerable.”
Regardless of the intended target, the cybersecurity industry is expanding quickly and as the demand for professionals turns into a need, the college approved a cybersecurity Associate in Applied Science (AAS) degree and certificate Thursday night. The two-year program will begin in fall 2019 and will give students the skills they need to dive into the profession.
Elias believes it’s been a long time coming.
“At the conferences I go to, a lot of things we’re reading is universities are doing this at the four-year and masters level and companies are saying, ‘We can’t wait. We need somebody now.’”
And this includes businesses in the area.
The college has held a couple of advisory committee meetings and sent surveys to area chambers of commerce to determine if there was a demand locally for cybersecurity professionals and found many businesses were interested in hiring cybersecurity professionals.
She said hackers sometimes target smaller businesses not necessarily for their information but to attack others.
“They don’t care about your information. A lot of times they want to plant something in your system and they do that to 100,000 or a million systems and then on a certain date and time it fires up and goes and attacks a huge entity whether it’s a government or company,” Elias said.
“And you don’t even know it’s happening,” she added.
The college was able to create a first semester that blends the basics for both cybersecurity as well as networking and added a class that helps students better determine which IT profession is right for them.
The second semester inches further into the terminology and basic concepts of cybersecurity including basic ethics before “the fun starts” as Elias describes it.
“Because we’ll be doing a lot of things such as ethical hacking. I love that oxymoron. But if someone is going to hack into my computer network, I have to know how they’re doing it,” Elias said.
Students will learn to look at places such as the firewall and router to determine weak points while using hacking and preventative tools in the Unix operating system. They will also intern with businesses as a part of the program.
Students will also engage in “digital forensics” by taking a hard drive and finding hidden files and viruses.
“It’s a lot of fun and it’s something that’s entirely different,” Elias said of the new courses.
Elias said she’s even heard from former networking students who have been interested in the program so they developed a certificate for those students. Networking professionals will be able to take six classes while working their current job to increase their capabilities at their current job or become a security specialist.
Elias said the cybersecurity has started to become popular at other community colleges such as Moraine Valley Community College and Joliet Junior College.
IVCC is currently in the process of looking for a cybersecurity professional to teach the classes and Elias is excited to debut the program in the next year.
“I’m really excited about it. I really think that it’s something we need in this area and it might even be a need that businesses don’t realize they need until it’s too late,” Elias said. “So I think the people who are working at and run the IT departments that are in the know about what’s going on in technology are really behind us and want to see the program succeed.”