With the Internet of Things, hand-held devices and remote work options — the future is going to be even more replete with technology than before. At the same time, the need for professionals who can provide seamless, secure experiences will be even greater, explains Alexander Perez-Pons, associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
“It’s going to be wonderful, one day, when we have autonomous vehicles. They're going to be communicating with each other and with various centralized locations. The infrastructure that supports this will need protection,” he illustrates as an example. “This is also the case with drones. Soon, Amazon will be using drones to make package deliveries to your home. Again, they'll be communicating with a network, so protecting the infrastructure with networking security will be important in the future with the growth we see.”
According to Perez-Pons, the best route to be in-demand and fully versed to handle the technology growth is to pursue a computer engineering degree that offers graduates the tools to address network security from both hardware and software considerations. In the following Q & A, Perez-Pons offers his take on why the M.S. in Computer Engineering: Network Security degree is so valuable.
Network security and computer engineering — what's the connection?
Computer engineering is at the crossroads between both hardware and software, and network security is supported by both. You must understand devices and programming, both hardware and software. There are a multitude of skills you master with computer engineering that help you gain this understanding. It’s a combination of these items that are relied on for creating and building network security solutions.
What is the role of computer engineers in network security?
A strong computer engineering background provides the ability to find solutions when it comes to network security. For example, you need to be able to analyze malware. That means you must understand computing programs and software in order to understand and lend support to the forensics process. With forensics, you need an understanding of how devices operate — the hardware — and how these devices provide access to the information that resides on them, in addition to how these devices communicate, end to end.
You have to understand the software that's involved, how devices do encryption and how they execute on various platforms or endpoints. Things like encryption algorithms provide safety for data and transmission when you have data in transition and, again, this is the software side.
What is the value in earning an M.S. degree in computer engineering with a network security specialization?
Many of the skill sets that you acquire with computer engineering, the software and hardware understandings, are aligned with the network security courses that are part of our computer engineering program.
Hardware understandings include how devices are configured, how they are integrated into a network and how they're integrated in and operate to support each other. Computer engineering provides the fundamental and tangible skills that you will need to be able to map those skills into the network security aspects.
The edge to having a computer engineering degree is that you know a graduate is going to have both the software and hardware skills, in addition to the network security portion. Computer engineering is a technical degree, which means you have the technical skills to build an organization’s network security infrastructure.
The Master of Science in Computer Engineering: Network Security track is a technical degree in computer engineering that provides students with the tools to understand hardware, software and communication skills — the hard, technical skills needed with regard to network security.
How has today's computer engineering adapted and changed to needs?
There is an explosion of growth with embedded devices. There are more devices communicating and more Internet of Things devices, so now we know we have a different infrastructure. We also have 5G now coming online in areas for better communications among devices. This acceleration is creating different types of abuse cases that will exist in different applications. So networking is fundamental, especially with remote work and working from home across cities and countries. There are different infrastructures to consider. We need to protect those endpoints. We need to make sure that we safeguard those networks.
The exponential growth that we've seen means we're going to need much more network security, so network security has to adapt to support the protection of these devices even further. We're going to have more networking occurring in our society and more protection will be needed. Whether it's Wi-Fi networking or other physical networks, they all have to be protected.
The way malware gets on a computer is through a network. The way that you know certain attacks are performed are through the network. Unless you come physically to your environment and connect to your computer directly, hackers are going to be able to gain access to your resources through the network, unless you protect it. The network is an indispensable means of protection and the vehicle that's used by many attackers to gain access to your data and resources.
If you're trying to protect an infrastructure, it's got to be the network — it's the most fundamental aspect and the core of what you need to protect, more than anything else. This is why we picked network security as being the most important specialization that we need to look at.