MET and CAS computer science departments recognized as information security hotspots
By David J. Craig
The computer science departments of Metropolitan College and the College of Arts and Sciences recently positioned themselves to receive federal dollars supporting education and research in cyberspace security.
By leveraging their expertise in information security, the departments largely were responsible for BU being named this summer a National Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education by the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security. The designation makes BU eligible for new grants, scholarships, and stipends — offered through the National Science Foundation and the Department of Defense — supporting education and research programs that could reduce vulnerabilities in the nation’s information infrastructure.
“I’m glad that the federal government is interested in making sure our workforce is educated about computer security,” says Leonid Reyzin, a CAS computer science assistant professor, whose research focuses on cryptography and e-security. “Information security is related to national security because computer networks transcend national boundaries, and our entire banking system and electricity, water, oil, and food delivery systems are built around computer networks. So it’s certainly in the national interest to have all of our private networks as secure as possible.”
Tanya Zlateva, a MET computer science associate professor and department chairman, says the federal funds also will support education programs with applications other than those directly related to national security issues.
“The study of information security involves the safety of all networks,” she says, “and has a wide variety of applications, from whether you can trust the security of your online bank transactions to whether your medical data is kept private, which is an enormous problem. So information security is an increasingly important area of study, whether our government is fighting terrorism or in a time of peace.”
The MET computer science department, whose students typically are young IT professionals, redesigned its curriculum beginning two years ago, Zlateva says, to incorporate into its core courses a focus on security issues. Networking courses now teach cryptography, for instance, and operating systems courses include material about security access and password technologies. The department also offers master’s degrees in computer science with a concentration in security; this semester it is offering an online master’s degree in computer information systems. Beginning next semester, the department will apply for the new federal funds.
Securing such funds will help in recruiting top-notch students, Zlateva says. “There are a growing number of jobs in government and at companies that do government work that require a certification in security technology,” she says. “This federal designation affirms our program as being among the very best in the nation. Through scholarships, it also will help our students get involved in research, either at the University or working with our industry partners.”
Zlateva also expects that the new federal designation will lead to collaborations between MET and CAS computer science faculty.
“Because MET is primarily a teaching entity,” she says, “one of my goals is to collaborate with computer science researchers at CAS and any other BU researchers interested in information security, so that our faculty and students can increase their involvement in research.”
Reyzin says that by collaborating with MET and tapping into new federal grants and scholarships, his department hopes to expand its applied cryptography and e-security program, which he leads with Gene Itkis, a CAS computer science assistant professor.
“This opens up all sorts of opportunities for us, and I think our collaboration is going to energize both of our departments,” he says. “Recently I got a call from a prospective student who was inquiring about the fact that BU now is a Center of Academic Excellence in this area, so that’s tangible proof that the designation is going to help put our programs on the map.”