Ask the Expert: Infosec for Academics

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Dear Ed:


I am about to start my junior year at a small private college in Pittsburgh. I’m majoring in information technology, and am very interested in information security. Because I’d like to work in that field, I feel that I would benefit from study and experience in that topic area before I graduate. Alas, my college offers no classes or programs in this area. I have also learned that several other schools nearby don’t offer such classes or programs, either. Given my situation and location, what do you recommend that I do to gain experience or knowledge in security so that I can pursue this subject professionally later on?


Bob L.


Pittsburgh, PA






Dear Bob:




Though it’s by no means cheap, one of the best computer science programs in the country is offered at Carnegie-Mellon University (CMU) right there in Pittsburgh. Not only do they offer classes in information security, at both graduate and undergraduate levels, they also run the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) out of the Software Engineering Institute at CMU–a leading center of information security research, development, and information sharing. If CMU is too expensive or too difficult to get into, there are numerous colleges and universities, such as Capella University and the University of Phoenix Online, that also offer online courses on information security topics.




Here’s what I suggest that you do to try to pursue this course of study through your current institution:




1. Talk to the undergraduate advisor about your desire to complete one or more courses in the general area of information security. Ask him or her what kinds of options he or she can offer to help you reach your goals.




2. Try to arrange a “reading course” or “tutorial” in information security, or ask if they can help you set up some kind of credit scheme whereby you can take such a course elsewhere, yet obtain credit for it at your college. Most undergraduate and graduate programs include such open-ended course descriptions to permit students to learn more about things that otherwise aren’t in the course catalog.




3. Failing any solution in item 2, ask about what it takes to get transfer credit should you take an information security course at another institution.




One of these methods should help you get training in and exposure to information security terms, concepts, and skills. Obtaining experience, however, is another matter. Ask your college about summer internships and/or what campus or local job placements they offer, and investigate any information security opportunities available. You might also consider looking into part-time employment at your college’s computer labs or internal IT department: any of these should give you at least some opportunities to explore security topics, operations, and activities “on the job.”




Given that Pittsburgh is also something of a “high tech town,” I’d also urge you to try to identify companies or consultancies in the area that specialize in information security, and see about finding work (consider even volunteer positions, if you’re really serious about this) to get yourself some hands-on experience.




Good luck!



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