Teaching, arming and training a generation of professionals to protect our nation's cyberassets is the goal of a Cyber Security course series offered by a Maryland college. It's a new field of study with the potential to fill a hole in the market, as there is enormous demand for such specialists at the moment -- and it's likely to rise even further.
In two years' time the first "army of cyber warriors" is due to be trained and ready to enter the war against Internet terrorists, hackers and data thieves.
Militaristic language like that is frequently used at the University of Maryland University College (UMUC) when referring to its Cyber Security course. Protecting the Internet has become a matter of national security in the US.
UMUC began offering a bachelors degree and two masters programs in Internet security last autumn. It's a new field of study with the potential to fill a hole in the market. Within a short period hundreds of people expressed an interest in taking up the course.
There is enormous demand for such specialists at the moment and it's likely to rise even further. Whether it's administration, government bodies or the private economy, there are networks and systems everywhere that need to be protected, data secured and digital intruders stopped in their tracks.
"Cyber security is a very serious issue. Our aim is to train or teach a generation of professionals how to protect our cyber assets," says Alan Carswell who heads up the program at UMUC.
Wireless broadband networks exist everywhere in the US, both in the private and public sectors. Schools, clinics, transport and not least business and government would not be possible without a constantly functioning computer network. Cyber security affects countless areas from the search for friends in social networks such as Facebook to the financial markets on Wall Street.
Attacks on those systems can have catastrophic consequences, according to Carswell. They range from simple data theft to life-threatening situations such as the manipulation of air traffic control that could kill hundreds of people.
Cyber security has been viewed as a national challenge for a long time in the US. In May 2009, shortly after taking office, President Barack Obama declared that "America's economic prosperity in the 21st century will depend on cyber security," and he also nominated a coordinator for Cyber security. The popular Spy Museum in Washington has even dedicated one of its exhibition spaces to Internet security.
John Michael McConnell, the former director of the US National Security Agency -- and therefore a former "top spy" -- has warned against what he described as a "Cyber Pearl Harbor" -- an attack that could be as dramatic as the Japanese one on the US naval base in Hawaii in 1941 but this time in digital form.
Hacker attacks on countries and Internet-based terrorism have firmly established themselves as part of the real world. The US has set up an organization, the Cyber Command, to defend military networks against attack. Carswell says there is currently a shortage of qualified experts, but he promises that "we will fill that hole."
It's no surprise then that other universities have decided to react and across the US similar education programs are springing up. The names of the programs may differ but usually they all focus on the same theme of cyber security.
University life for the over 500 part-time students who are studying cyber security at UMUC, however, is quite different from what you might expect. Lectures take place via video , says UMUC press spokesman Chip Cassano. The course modules are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and there are Internet platforms where students can discuss their studies online.
It seems appropriate that the cyber security course can also be completed exclusively online.