Almost every week there’s a news story about an organization being hacked or someone having a digital lock placed on their phone.
Not surprisingly, this is increasing the demand for cybersecurity experts, according to the dean of the cybersecurity program at New York Institute of Technology's Vancouver campus, Tokunbo Makanju.
“We are going to have to get more people into cybersecurity to deal with that growing threat that comes from becoming more connected,” Makanju told the Straight by phone. “I’m not sure if you know this: Canada is, per capita, the most connected country in the world.”
New York Tech, the local affiliate of the New York Institute of Technology, offers the only master’s degree in cybersecurity in Western Canada.
It’s a two-year, full-time program offered at the Broadway Tech Centre beside SkyTrain’s Renfrew Station, though Makanju noted that it’s possible to complete it in 18 months.
Traditionally, graduates have ended up working for tech or telecommunications companies.
“Those are places they usually migrate to,” he said, “but in recent times, we’re seeing a lot of people going into the financial-services sector.”
He suggested that this is due to the growing use of blockchain technology, which enables a person to transfer ownership of units of value electronically on a publicly accessible ledger.
Initially, this was used for cryptocurrencies, but it has extended beyond that into real estate, auto-title transfers, and retail loyalty-rewards programs, among other areas.
“It’s going to become a big thing in the future,” Makanju predicted.
That’s why New York Tech is planning to launch a course on blockchain security in the summer of 2020. In the meantime, blockchain is covered in a course on cryptography, which also deals with hackers and ransomware.
Those enrolled in the master’s program are required to complete 10 courses, including a communications class. Six are compulsory, three are electives, and one is a capstone project.
Student intakes occur in September, January, and May. And he said that companies can obtain grants through Innovate B.C. to hire students.
Makanju recalled that in the last term, students worked on a particularly interesting capstone project using deep learning, which is a subset of artificial intelligence. This was applied to add another layer, facial recognition, before people could log on to a computer.
“They trained the deep-learning model to recognize those faces as a way of doing authentication,” he said.
Although facial recognition can provide a higher level of security, Makanju pointed out that hackers invariably seem to figure out how to circumvent new technological barriers.
That’s why he believes that the standard in the market is going to be two-factor authentication systems. As an example, he mentioned that Google, for instance, sends a one-time password to a person’s cellphone.
“That’s two-factor authentication because they’re using what you know, which is your password, and also what you have, which is your cellphone,” Makanju noted. “If somebody is able to crack your password, they’re not going to have your cellphone.”
When asked which students do well in the cybersecurity program, Makanju mentioned those with a background in computer science. He also said that cybersecurity is ultimately about risk analysis, which is covered in the curriculum.
However, risk-analysis positions are usually not considered entry-level—and according to the New York Tech dean, the greatest demand continues to be for people with hands-on technical skills.