Cybersecurity is a growing need in Greater Houston

By Yun Wan, UHV Professor of Computer Information Systems
Posted 9/19/21

Our nation is facing increasing challenges from cyberspace.

On May 7, the Colonial Pipeline, a Houston-originated oil pipeline system carrying gasoline and jet fuel to the Southeastern U.S., …

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Cybersecurity is a growing need in Greater Houston

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Our nation is facing increasing challenges from cyberspace.

On May 7, the Colonial Pipeline, a Houston-originated oil pipeline system carrying gasoline and jet fuel to the Southeastern U.S., halted its operation due to a ransomware attack. Even after the company paid the ransom, the restoration still took so long that the federal government issued a regional emergency declaration for 17 states and Washington, D.C., to keep fuel supply lines open on May 9. It was the most significant cyberattack on an oil infrastructure target in the history of the U.S. The company suffered a halt in operations and lost 100 gigabytes of data from company servers the day before the malware attack.

Unfortunately, Colonial Pipeline is not the only company being attacked. Globally, 30,000 websites are hacked daily, and 64 percent of companies worldwide have experienced at least one form of cyberattack. Our home base – the greater Houston region – is in an especially vulnerable status to meet these challenges. Houston is the world hub for the oil industry and one of the world health centers. There are numerous oil, health-related and interconnected digital infrastructures. But many of them are aged and were developed in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s without any built-in mechanism to detect or prevent cyberattacks.

With the rising threat from cyberspace, we are also experiencing an evolution in collecting and using data. Moore’s law drove the storage cost to almost zero compared with other IT elements in the last two decades. The same law and cloud computing technology also allows computing power to rise to an unprecedented level. This combination led to a digital infrastructure supporting revolutionary technologies such as deep learning, which is the basis of the now human-like voice and image recognition tools we are using nowadays.

Deep learning is just one type of artificial intelligence algorithm. We will see deep learning like AI algorithms embedded into every object we use, from vehicles to home appliances, in the foreseeable future. In the oil and health industry – the mainstay of Houston – artificial intelligence is accompanied by more data and increasingly sophisticated algorithms to process them, which means more and more demand for IT professionals in data science and artificial intelligence.

But there is a shortage of IT professionals who are versed either in cybersecurity or in data science. While cybercrime grows exponentially and an increasing amount of data is stored without being mined, businesses face a severe talent drought in both sectors. The short supply of qualified IT professionals in these areas and surging demand dramatically increases the competition. The overall market has a noticeable shortage of advanced predictive analytics and cybersecurity skills. Companies have to use all types of channels to find an experienced Security Analyst or Data Architect, or software engineer with experience in Artificial Intelligence; It is typical for a company to spend several months of searching and investment to fill positions like these.

This shortage means aspiring students in this industry could get exposure as early as in high school and then choose a career path for secondary education that could lead to an IT professional track in cybersecurity, data science or artificial intelligence. Katy ISD and Royal ISD both have the digital facilities and collaboration to offer dual credit courses in IT. Houston Community College has an associate degree in cybersecurity and artificial intelligence. The University of Houston-Victoria offers a bachelor's degree in computer information systems program with concentrations in both data science and cybersecurity at its UHV Katy instructional site.

All these schools and higher education institutions provide multiple pathways for students to be successful in these careers and fill the national and regional needs. A motivated student has the opportunity to choose and pursue a 4-year bachelor’s degree while taking dual-credit courses in high school through HCC and UHV or choose an endorsement that allows them to complete stackable credentials through the AAS-BAAS degree programs, also starting in high school.

In addition to obtain an academic degree, a professional certification would add additional credentials for new graduates in the job market. Entry-level certification for cybersecurity graduates includes CompTIA Security+ and EC-council Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH). Students in data science could consider certification programs offered by large IT companies, such as a free IBM Data Science Professional Certificate or a Microsoft Certified Azure Data Scientist Associate.

Yun Wan is a Professor of Computer Information Systems for the University of Houston Victoria and is a chair of the university's Computer Science Division which helps oversee UHV-Katy's technology programs.

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