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NNMC offers new classes in cybersecurity

ESPAÑOLA – A cybersecurity breach at Equifax exposed sensitive personal data – including Social Security numbers, birth dates and addresses – potentially impacting 143 million Americans.

Hackers using the handle Dragonfly 2.0 reportedly targeted dozens of U.S. energy companies last spring and summer, gaining access to utility networks and, in some cases, control over grid operations.

And hijacked emails of a presidential candidate, along with more recent allegations of Russians hacking U.S. election systems last year, have roiled the political world.

How worried should we be about cyber attacks that have the potential to steal our identities and life savings, paralyze our power infrastructure and threaten our system of democracy?

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“You have to be worried,” said Jorge Crichigno, who heads the Information Engineering Technology program at Northern New Mexico College.

A recently accredited program backed by a $433,000 grant from National Science Foundation and partly supported by Los Alamos National Laboratory aims to create a workforce to protect against cyber threats.

The three-year grant will introduce some aspects of cybersecurity in starting-level classes and create a higher-level Applied Cybersecurity class to begin next year. A “400-level” Information Assurances and Security class, supplemented with virtual laboratories, or vLabs, will assist students in applying the fundamental principles they’ve learned about cybersecurity.

Internships, including 10 already being offered by LANL, are also part of the program.

The full framework will be in place by 2019, Crichigno said.

Students could cover the course work in two years and graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Information Engineering Technology with a concentration in cybersecurity.

And they may well end up with a well-paid job with a government agency or in the business world.

For instance, LANL posts entry-level jobs in cybersecurity that pay annual salaries in the $70,000 to $80,000 range. Crichigno says mid-level jobs in the industry approach $200,000 and go up from there.

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“And that’s all over the country,” he said. “There’s so much demand. But that’s a positive thing for our graduates.”

Nothing like it

Student James McKeough says earning a degree in cybersecurity is job security.

“I’ve seen the tech boom – the dot coms and applications. All those applications need to be secure. All those websites need to be secure. I don’t see anything going on in the world today that’s bigger than this,” he said.

He’s impressed by the program NNMC is offering because he says it mixes database content with computer science. “I don’t see anything like it anywhere else,” he said.

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