Crack the Cyber Code

Grad schools prepare a new generation of cybersecurity leaders

October 9, 2012

Brian Fricke is earning a World Executive MBA with a focus on cybersecurity.

Brian Fricke discovered his passion for cybersecurity while in the Marine Corps. “We had a big virus hit our squadron, and I was like, ‘Oh, I think I can fix this.’”

Fricke got the patch disk and removed the virus.

“It wasn’t a big deal if you think about it, but it was a big deal to [the squadron] because none of the computers were working.”

A big deal indeed: Fricke earned a Navy Achievement medal for his work.

“I had a mentor that taught me this: If you can be the one to translate the techie stuff to the business and vice versa, then you will always have a job,” says Fricke, 30.

Fricke is a pioneer in this type of translation. He’s a part of George Washington University’s first class of World Executive MBA candidates with a focus on cybersecurity. The 10 students will earn their degrees in December 2013.

Helping governments and organizations defend themselves from online threats has become a popular topic in the past decade.

“There are quite a few cyber-security programs, but they are highly technically orientated,” says J.P. Auffert, who leads a similar program at George Mason University, also brand-new this year. “There are hardly any that are focused on cybersecurity leadership.”

Three programs focusing on just that have emerged in the D.C. area recently. In addition to the GW and GMU programs, University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business will launch a graduate certificate program in cyber management next semester.

This abundance is a result of demand for cybersecurity leadership from some of the better-known three-lettered government agencies — the Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency among them — as well as from large corporations.

Such organizations need managers who are versed in both the tech and business sides of information systems.

Most cybersecurity degrees cover the nitty-gritty stuff — setting up firewalls, watching other networks and seeing who’s watching you.

The new leadership programs prepare students to look at the business side of information systems. As a cybersecurity expert with a WEMBA degree, Fricke will be prepared to help companies decide what to spend money on — whether that’s faster computers or hiring more sales staff. “Those are business decisions,” he says.

“Often you’ve got your developers not being able to explain in business terms to the business staff what they need to do,” Fricke says.

“It really comes down to saying this: How do you make cybersecurity financially viable in your organization?”

By studying cyber network defense, attacks and exploitation, as well as the law and ethics of the new field, cybersecurity leadership students learn to use technology as a way to reduce costs and help their organizations stay safe.

“We’re not getting so in depth into the engineering,” says Nick Kaywork, 32, a member of GMU’s first group to study management of secure information systems. “But we’re able to be in that sphere comfortably.”

For Kaywork, the program marks a significant career shift. He trained as a linguist while in the Marine Corps before moving on to work for the government.

“I’ve always been a tinkerer with computers,” he says. “It’s been a hobby of mine. But professionally, I’m not in that lane at all.

“I saw language being that growth sector just after 9/11, when I became a Marine and a linguist,” Kaywork says. “I see cyber being that next kind of front.”

That’s why he’s is spending three Saturdays a month earning his master’s at GMU. Both the GWU and GMU offerings are executive programs, meaning most classes are held on weekends and most students have full-time jobs in a related field.

While the George Washington program offers an executive MBA degree, George Mason’s program is run among the university’s management, engineering and public policy schools. Students will graduate in May with Master of Science degrees.

Kaywork said he believes his program and others like it are preparing a new generation to create a safer cyber world.

“They really enable senior leaders to understand the vulnerability of gaps in current information systems and understand that it’s not just an IT problem, it’s a management problem.”

Beth Marlowe is a senior editor at Washington Post Express. She has written for The Washington Post, the Associated Press, Bloomberg Television and other publications.
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Christopher Porter · October 9, 2012