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Monday, October 19, 2020

Program to focus on fighting Internet hackers

A new degree in cybersecurity will be offered to students attending Western partner-institutions Olympic College and Peninsula College, starting in the 2016 school year.

The program will provide students an opportunity to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Western’s Computer and Information Systems Security program.

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It will be offered specifically at Olympic College Poulsbo’s campus on the Kitsap Peninsula, said Lois Longwood, the director of degree and professional studies programs at Western’s extended education office.

David Bover, a computer science professor at Western and primary creator of the degree, said there is a high demand for graduates with expertise in cybersecurity.

“We are talking an immediate need for thousands of computer science graduates, who have particular skills in cybersecurity,” Bover said. “Those people aren’t currently being produced.

They are being produced in small numbers, but nowhere near the demand for them.

Bover said that majority of organizations, government agencies and corporation’s infrastructure is based on the internet these days, creating a high level of vulnerability for cyberattacks.

“The need for them is not just a fashionable trend,” Bover said. “It is a desperate need for corporations and the government to be able to properly defend their networks against attacks.”

Levi Colton, a CISS student at Whatcom Community College, said the program is teaching him how cyberattacks can happen and how to prevent attackers from gaining control of computer systems and networks.

Students will learn common software vulnerability, skills to properly configure and defend computer systems and a detailed understanding of how computers work.

The consequences of cyberattacks can be minor or catastrophic, Bover said. Once attackers have gained control over a computer or network, they can access personal and sensitive information, such as bank account information or even the nation’s power grid.

For the past two years, Western has offered a similar arrangement to students at WCC and Western, allowing WCC students to earn an associates degree in CISS and then move on to Western to complete their bachelor’s.

Western currently provides degree programs from Huxley and the College of Business to the students on the Kitsap Peninsula . The CISS degree will be the third program that Western brings to Olympic College Poulsbo, Longwood said.

Partnerships with Olympic and Peninsula allow students to first earn their associate degree and eventually funnel into a four-year program offered by Western, without being in the area, Longwood said.

“What’s important to Western’s presence outside of Bellingham is that it provides education access to people who are place-bound,” Longwood said.

These individuals don’t have the ability to relocate to Bellingham for a multiple of reasons, such as military, job or family obligations, Longwood said.

Dean of the Business and Technology Division at Olympic College, Norma Whitacre said the college’s partnership with Western is extremely valuable to the Kitsap Peninsula’s community.

“Our main goal from an Olympic College standpoint is to prepare students in our associate degree to be ready for the cybersecurity degree at Poulsbo,” Whitacre said.

The room for this program to grow is unlimited, Longwood said.

“We don’t know where the field is going, but we do know that it is moving really fast,” Longwood said. “We are meeting the needs of today, and that is exciting.”

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