Joining the Frontlines of Cybersecurity
The exponential growth of digital systems in areas such as energy, healthcare, manufacturing, and other critical infrastructure has also demanded an increase in enhanced cybersecurity to protect those systems and the public at large. To prepare students to address these rapidly evolving challenges, the University of Pittsburgh this fall launched a new cybersecurity certificate program across all engineering disciplines.
“Cybersecurity in Emerging Engineering Systems” undergraduate certificate will be offered in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering and will bundle courses on cybersecurity, engineering systems, and artificial intelligence. Mai Abdelhakim, who led the development of the certificate, explained that every infrastructure system is unique in its vulnerabilities and requirements, and so the cybersecurity solutions should be informed by the system’s needs. The certificate is interdisciplinary and hands-on rather than solely lecture-based.
“Students will have the opportunity to apply what they learn from coursework to real-world autonomous systems,” explained Abdelhakim, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, who received the university’s Innovation in Education Award last spring to further develop hands-on cybersecurity educational modules.
The Cybersecurity in Emerging Engineering Systems certificate bundles courses in cybersecurity, engineering systems, and artificial intelligence. The series completes with a capstone project.
“With this certificate, the Swanson School is playing a leading role in shaping the future of engineering education,” Abdelhakim said. “It aims at bridging the gap between traditional engineering curricula and fast-evolving cybersecurity demands.”
Abdelhakim proposed the certificate program in response to the wide adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the collective network of connected devices and technology that facilitates communication between devices – and the integration between IT (information technology) and OT (operational technology) in modern engineering systems and critical infrastructure. With these technologies, engineering systems are becoming highly autonomous and interconnected and concerns for public safety, finance, health, and national security are receiving increased attention, all the way to the White House.
The Biden-Harris Administration has made cybersecurity a top priority and launched initiatives to prevent these threats as adversaries continue to seek new and creative means to compromise systems. In March 2023, the White House released its National-Cybersecurity Strategy and pledged a budget of $10.9 billion for civilian cybersecurity-related activities, an 11 percent increase from 2022.
“These cybersecurity concerns are now rightfully at the forefront of policymaking,” said Interim U.S. Steel Dean of Engineering at Pitt Sanjeev Shroff. “As an engineering school, it is our responsibility to ensure that our students are more than capable of preventing these threats from jeopardizing our daily lives.”
Not only is expanding a cybersecurity skillset critical among young engineers to mitigate these attacks, it’s also highly in demand. It’s estimated that there will be 3.5 million job openings by 2025.
“Integrating these cybersecurity skills across all of our engineering disciplines increases the value of our graduates to potential employers and will make them more desirable as cyber systems continue to expand and evolve,” Abdelhakim said.