With an increasing threat of cyberattacks on financial, health and other institutions, the University of North Carolina Wilmington is looking ahead with the goal of preparing students in the information technology and cyber defense field. That was one main message from UNCW officials and featured speakers at the annual WITX (Wilmington Information Technology eXchange) conference this week.
“The growth rate for technology professionals in North Carolina is projected to continue to grow in the double digits over the next few years. Leading growth occupations in North Carolina are projected as software developers, business analysts, data analysts and security specialists,” Rob Burrus, dean of the UNCW Cameron School of Business, said at the conference Tuesday. “UNCW is very proud to meet this demand and educate future information technology professionals.”
UNCW offers four degree programs and three minors in technology areas, Burrus said.
Last year, UNCW launched the Center for Cyber Defense Education (CCD), which is aimed to raise the awareness level of cybersecurity issues and support the development of cyber defense expertise of students, according to UNCW’s website.
In November, UNCW was named as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education, a designation given by the Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency.
The designation for the Bachelor IT degree with a cybersecurity minor allows students in the program to compete for federal and private cybersecurity jobs, according to a news release.
About 6% of the 3,000-plus four-year institutions in the country have this designation, said Ulku Clark, associate professor of management information systems, who was recognized at the conference for her work to obtain the designation for the university.
“It was a very pleasant surprise to receive a call from NSA last week, stating that we actually became one of their target schools for recruitment,” Clark said at the conference.
Clark emphasized the importance of preparing the future workforce.
“The estimated cost of cyber activity in the U.S. economy is $140 billion per year. The estimated global economic impact of terrorism was about $90 billion in 2015. In case you were worried about the stock market bubble, the chair of the SEC last year said that the greatest threat to the American financial sector is cyber,” Clark said. “With this grim picture, cyber warriors from all majors and career fields will be needed to meet the coming challenges in the future. The CCD is key to UNCW's effort to align with the U.S. national cyber strategy to develop experienced cybersecurity workforce to meet the nation's cyber needs.”
Cyber threats are also present in the Wilmington region, officials said.
Michael Nauert, FBI special agent with the bureau's cyber division covering Southeastern North Carolina, said during his speech at the conference that he spends most of his time on financially motivated criminals in the retail and financial sectors.
The most common way those criminals are getting access to information is through business emails such as phishing, which often trick CEOs and other company workers into compromising their own computers.
Nauert said not a week goes by where he doesn’t hear from a business about their computers becoming compromised.
The WITX conference is on its 16th year. It has grown from 65 to more than 550 attendees this year.
Tuesday's conference featured 10 seminars.
Chris Hillier, executive director of innovation for New Hanover Regional Medical Center, held a seminar on the “Future of Health Care and What It Means to Be Human.”
Diane Durance, director of UNCW’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, presented on “Technology Startups-Getting to Know the Investor That Is Right for You.”
The conference ended with Ignite, an event where presenters shared their professional and personal endeavors in five-minute TED-style talks.
“Our course offerings and initiatives continue to grow and expand,” UNCW Chancellor Jose Sartarelli said. “Expect in the future an engineering program in computer technology most likely in terms of systems engineering and potentially a Ph.D. too. Universities must graduate more students who have the skills needed to help combat threats to our information infrastructure.”