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MIT Launches Cybersecurity Professional Education Course

​Cybersecurity professional education opportunities are popping up everywhere it seems. Last fall, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) launched its first professional education digital program that focuses on cybersecurity—Cybersecurity: Technology, Application, and Policy.​

The online course gave approximately 1,200 professionals a holistic look at cybersecurity technologies, techniques, and systems over a six-week period in the fall. Due to the course’s success and market demand, MIT is offering the class again, beginning today—January 12—and running through February 23, 2016.

To learn more about the program, Security Management Assistant Editor Megan Gates sat down with Director of Global Programs at MIT Professional Education Clara Piloto to discuss continuing education, cybersecurity, and more. Below is a Q&A with Piloto, which has been edited for clarity.

Gates: MIT offers a variety of digital programs geared towards professionals, but could you tell me more about why you decided to create the Cybersecurity: Technology, Application, and Policy program in 2015?

Piloto: MIT Professional Education has been around for 65 years. The digital programs launched two or three years ago, and our big strategy there is to provide timely and timeless courses. And the timely courses are very much market driven—what’s the mood right now, what’s the global audience in need of, what are some of the challenges that the world is facing. Those questions kind of go back to MIT’s mission: to solve the big challenges in the world.

So cybersecurity, obviously, is a huge issue globally. I think what motivated the faculty and the department to go forward with this course are the recent attacks on Sony with large releases of huge volumes of company information; Target and other retail companies losing credit card information; and the federal government Office of Personnel Management breach as well. Also, a lot of our computers systems don’t manage just data, but also physical systems—so power grids, communication networks, fuel pipelines, industrial plants, for example, they’re all controlled by computers.

It’s really this sort of huge challenge, which MIT faculty love to sink their teeth into and figure out ways to solve these issues. And because of those challenges, and the market demanding it, it drove us to launch the cybersecurity course.

Gates: And who is the course geared towards? Do you need an IT background to enroll?

Piloto: There’s two audiences. The primary audience is IT, technical folks. We recommend a computer science background. However, there’s a lot of business decisions that have to be made behind the scenes, so we do get a lot of business leaders and policy folks that take the course to know at a high level what’s going on.

Gates: That makes sense, especially as sometimes business executives who don’t know a lot about cybersecurity want to learn—or they need to learn—what risks their company might be facing and how to interact with their IT department. 

Piloto: Exactly, and I think that’s really important—the business leaders need to have at least a high level of understanding. It’s really important because they’re the drivers; they’re the ones that are driving the economy, driving the world basically.

Gates: The course itself focuses on several sub-topics related to cybersecurity, such as security breaches, operating systems security, and programming languages. One of those topics is cybersecurity policy. Why was policy included?

Piloto: Policy is definitely not an afterthought. As we were designing and discussing the course, policy was always coming up and we wanted to make sure that it was featured prominently because we felt that it was really important in terms of inquiring into the role of public policy and sustaining and securing the Internet. That was really important to us, and we wanted to make sure that it was prominent. 

A lot of the sub-topics are chosen in part because of faculty research and the areas that they’re focusing on. These are areas that they feel are important to, hopefully, at least alleviate and reduce vulnerabilities regarding cybersecurity. So we explore this theme in the course and they look at how vulnerabilities emerge, how we can better engineer our systems, should we remove those vulnerabilities, and how to contain them moving forward.

The course definitely has an MIT perspective about how to solve this problem. There are a lot of cyber courses out there right now, but what I think is unique about the program is the MIT approach to solving this issue.

Gates: And looking beyond this particular course, what is MIT looking to possibly offer in the future when it comes to courses or certificates related to cybersecurity?

Piloto: We’re looking at a data science professional certificate; we’re planning on offering more courses in big data. Some of the subject areas are social network data, data analytics, predictive analytics, machine learning, and statistics. IoT (Internet of Things) also is on the horizon. We feel that’s hugely linked to cybersecurity, big data, and systems engineering. 

Those are some of the courses and things that we’re thinking about that we feel that the market is asking for, but also what we feel would really help in the current landscape.

Gates: And when it comes to cybersecurity, what are some areas that you’re paying attention to that you think are going to be increasingly important in 2016?

Piloto: I think IoT is going to be really interesting to see where it goes because it touches all industries, just like big data. So I think there’s a lot more to come there. And robotics, artificial intelligence—you’re going to see a lot more regarding those topics.

Gates: I wrote an article for Security Management for our October issue about the explosion of the IoT, if we’re ready for it and how it impacts security.

Piloto: It’s a little scary too because it can really impact security. So I think companies and industries need to move into this responsibly and really understand the potential—but also some of the risks.

Also, I want data scientists to understand the analytics (of big data). That’s something that’s important. And it’s funny, I was chatting with someone the other day and we said we want to create these data sorcerers and demystify big data. For some people, you might think that’s too complicated or too techy. But through our online courses…we really just want to democratize professional executive education and make it more available to more people, and demystify a lot of these topics.

Enrollment for Cybersecurity: Technology, Application, and Policy is currently open through January 19, 2016. The six-week online course is $595, and runs through February 23, 2016.