Mastering IT security

IT security is one of the foremost concerns of CEOs and CIOs in Canada and globally – judging by any of the top 10 lists put out by analyst firms each year. Now, it seems academia is paying attention as well. A new program – Master of Information Technology Security – will soon be offered by the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) in Oshawa, Ont. The program – which according to the University is the first of its kind in Canada and one of few IT security graduate degree programs in the world – is slated to begin in September. Nathan Percival, an IT specialist with UOIT’s Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, is one of the first students to sign up. He spoke with ComputerWorld Canada department editor Patricia Pickett about what attracted him to the program and the skills and experience he expects to gain.

What is your own IT background?

I have a Bachelor’s degree in math and computer science from the University of Waterloo. I chose the information systems option, which gives you more of the IT side as opposed to the programming side. I graduated in 2000. I have worked with and been around computers since 1978 when we got the first computer in our house. I’ve always been interested in computers, IT, networking and issues [surrounding] IT….All through high school and university I supported computer systems, staying current and watching the development of IT. And before I joined the university as an employee, I worked for a small consulting firm dealing with intelligent traffic systems…. I saw how IT changed with the events of 9/11, and how security has become much more important. I was always interested in privacy and security – how to keep information private, and how to work against viruses, and more recently, phishing. …you can’t stay in a leadership role in an IT environment without being very aware of security. Nathan PercivalText

What are your career goals?

I want to get more into the network side of things. I believe you can’t stay in a leadership role in an IT environment without being very aware of security. It is a major component of IT in the future…both on a technical and non-technical level. It’s the way IT is going.

How did you find out about UOIT’s masters program?

In the third year of my undergrad, I started looking for what is out there in terms of masters programs – not in engineering, programming or a hardware-based program, though. But I found that there is little out there other than highly theoretical computer science (programs) or ones that are very much into hardware, the electrical engineering types of programs. There is little [offered] in the space between the two.

What stood out for you when you came across UOIT’s program?

It was the use of technology and the way (it) would help you develop a broad understanding of IT at a management level. [The program] gives you an overview of hardware (and) software, and allows you to look at the issues regarding their use, because you have to take a law and ethics course. It helps you see both the technical and non-technical aspects of security. It gives you a strong technical base but not just a raw base without any context to put into it. I found nothing else (in Canada) like this program, specifically in IT security.

Where do you think the IT security job market is headed?

I see it definitely growing because security is becoming more and more prominent. When Back in 2000, when I was working with intelligent traffic systems, security was a thing that might have been done if there was some extra time. But today it’s paramount to every system out there, to the people who implement and design systems, plan large infrastructures. The health care industry…with the privacy of information being put in there, has a huge need for skills, for people who can make (security) work, plan systems so that they stay secure. And with more and more things coming online with financial institutions and other businesses, security will be more and more a part of the systems out there.Everything is part of a system and you have to take a systems approach to IT security. You can’t secure a system independent of the rest of the world. Text

What are your expectations of UOIT’s program?

I’m expecting to gain a much better technical knowledge of security, much more awareness of how to address (security) issues. Giving me a better idea of what is being attacked is only part of it. The program will help me become aware of the tools to stop attacks – where the attacks come from, how they develop and how to prevent them. I also expect to learn more on the (legal) side, about how the world is being affected by the need for security.

What kind of advice would you give to someone who is looking to specialize in IT security – what kind of educational program should they look for?

You want a program that…gives you a very good technical (foundation) but doesn’t completely neglect the softer side – social engineering, how people interact with systems. You also (need to) make sure the program is…broad based – (covering) things like telecommunications, wireless networking – the whole gamut. Everything is part of a system and you have to take a systems approach to IT security. You can’t secure a system independent of the rest of the world.

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