Nick Herman once led a global corporate campaign to trick people into clicking on a fictitious link. He created fake websites and phishing emails in different languages.

Herman is no cyber fraudster — quite the contrary. Interning at a high-technology manufacturer in Charlotte, North Carolina, during his freshman year at Virginia Tech, he was put in charge of the phishing project to promote cybersecurity mindfulness throughout the company.

“The biggest issue in cybersecurity is the lack of awareness,” said Herman, who was self-employed as an IT consultant in high school. And lack of cyber education and awareness, he said, can lead to phishing attacks, which “are the number one way cyber criminals infiltrate a system.” 

Arpit Soni wants to launch his own business to help organizations better defend themselves against cyber intruders. Network security, he said, is where vulnerabilities are being relentlessly exploited.

Herman and Soni, both juniors majoring in business information technology in the Pamplin College of Business, leapt at the chance to pursue a new academic option this fall in cybersecurity management and analytics

“When I saw that Pamplin will start offering cybersecurity, I immediately booked a one-on-one meeting with my advisor to make the switch from the decision support systems option,” said Soni. The cyber option, he said, would equip him with the skills and knowledge “to protect systems from security threats and damages, as threats to systems will never go away.”

Herman has set his sights on a career in cybersecurity and business. “The cyber option will allow me to take classes that are focused on my goal,” he said.

As data breaches and cyberattacks continue to grow, businesses, government agencies, and other employers are seeking employees with the right skills to help them. 

The cybersecurity option would help meet the tremendous need for talent in this field, said Robin Russell, head of the Department of Business Information Technology, which developed the option.

Given the dramatic increases in cyber threats and the continued shortfall of cyber-skilled professionals — 3.5 million cybersecurity jobs are estimated to be unfilled by 2021, according to Cybersecurity Ventures — Russell said the need for more students educated in cybersecurity is a major priority for Virginia as well as a matter of national security.

In metro Washington, D.C., where Virginia Tech will build its technology-focused Innovation Campus, the demand for such professionals is especially intense — more than double the need of the New York metro area, more than five times the Boston area, and almost seven times that of Silicon Valley.

The new option would fill a huge gap in cybersecurity education as well. Citing workforce analytics research, Russell noted that the vast majority of cybersecurity education programs are at the graduate level — even though 84 percent of job postings in cybersecurity require only a bachelor’s degree — and are technically focused, originating in engineering or computer science. 

Pamplin’s BIT-Cyber option is different from engineering and computer science programs offered at Virginia Tech, she said. In general, the other programs prepare students to design and create physical networks and software that are secure and to monitor and assess them for attacks. 

BIT-Cyber emphasizes the use of business processes and data analytics in cybersecurity management. “Our students will gain proficiency in the business management of cybersecurity within an organization, including setting policies, managing risk and incident response, using data to understand attacks on business assets, and managing the overall cybersecurity function within a business,” Russell said.

“Our industry partners tell us there is a great need for problem-solvers who have business as well as technical skills,” she added. “They need graduates who understand the technical issues of data, IT, and cyberattacks — and also know how to use data to support business functions and management decisions, including how to articulate the risk and ramifications of alternative cyber strategies.”

The option, which reflects a focus area for both Pamplin and the university, is among the ways the college seeks to contribute to Virginia’s Commonwealth Cybersecurity Initiative. Pamplin faculty are also conducting related research and teaching courses in the nation’s top-ranked online master’s program in cybersecurity.

Get the full story on the cyber option and more in the fall 2019 issue of Virginia Tech Business, the magazine of the Pamplin College of Business. Contact BITCyber@vt.edu to learn more about the new BIT-Cyber option. 

— Written by Sookhan Ho