An Education Initiative in Cognitive Application: How I Embarked on Designing a Master’s Course for GSU

Since 2015, I have been designing and administering graduate courses at Georgia State University (GSU) in areas such as big data, information security and data privacy. I find this not only fun, but also a great opportunity to provide real-life knowledge to aspiring IT students from all over the world.

In one of the classes I taught last year, I had students representing 12 different nationalities. The best part, though, is watching the students’ eyes glow when they realize how technology and real life work together at the enterprise level.

An Education in Cognitive Application

Last year, I had an opportunity to study Watson for Oncology. I learned how it was able to analyze the meaning and context of structured and unstructured data in clinical notes and reports to determine a recommended treatment.

If we apply the same data concept to the cybersecurity realm, cognitive systems can understand research reports and best practices, providing real-time input to security analysts at speeds previously unimaginable. This level of insight could only otherwise be obtained from years of experience as a security analyst. But security analysts are, after all, humans and therefore prone to judgment errors.

In May 2016, IBM launched a year-long project in collaboration with eight universities. The researchers feed Watson for Cyber Security more than 15,000 security documents, including reports and data from the IBM X-Force Exchange, each month. This augmented intelligence can help reduce analysts’ workloads and improve accuracy with incident response. Analysts will receive rich guidance and incident cases from none other than Watson itself.

Fast forward to 2017. I am attending a luncheon with Dr. Bala Ramesh, interim chair and board of advisers professor at GSU. I floated the idea of designing and developing a course in cognitive computing for cybersecurity to him. Things moved quickly, and I am now involved in designing the course for GSU master’s students this summer.

Becoming a Cognitive Security Analyst

Initially, I sought to understand how one becomes a security analyst today. Currently, the path is fairly structured, consisting of training followed by technical certifications such as CISSP, CISM and CISA. Many universities offer information security degree programs that meet the standards for the National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense (CAE-CD). The National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) jointly sponsor the CAE-CD program to reduce vulnerabilities in the U.S. information infrastructure by promoting higher education, research and professional training in cyberdefense.

Degree programs from any participating institutions offer the skills and proficiencies required to become a security analyst. Many other universities not yet certified as part the program also offer specialized educational programs. But my challenge was to design a totally new course that teaches students how to become cognitive security analysts.

Teaching What Watson Can Do

The approach I took is twofold. My goal was to first ensure that the fundamentals of cognitive computing are well understood and, second, impart knowledge of cybersecurity in conjunction with cognitive computing. The modules I plan to cover in the program are:

  1. Introduction to Cognitive Computing — IBM Watson;
  2. IBM Watson Ecosystem;
  3. Roadmap for Building Your Cognitive Application (“Powered by Watson”);
  4. Designing and Developing Your Cognitive Application;
  5. Enrich Your Cognitive Application with Content;
  6. Train Your Cognitive Application; and
  7. Test and Deploy Your “Powered by Watson” Cognitive Application.

I am sure setting up an ecosystem will present its own challenges and require me to adjust the agenda and content. Simply getting the ecosystem off the ground will be a good first challenge.

As I embark on this journey of designing a one-of-a-kind cognitive course in cybersecurity for GSU, I plan to blog about my progress and any unforeseen challenges that arise. I hope you will follow along. I always say that difficulties strengthen the mind. Here’s hoping that any upcoming challenges are met with enthusiastic students who are passionate about solving today’s security problems.

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Murthy Rallapalli

Executive Architect, IBM

Dr. Murthy Rallapalli has been in the IT industry and with IBM since 1995, currently in the role of Executive Architect specializing in security, counter fraud and analytics solutions related to financial services sector. He is also an adjunct professor of Information Security & Cloud computing at Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA. Dr. Rallapalli is a Fulbright specialist awardee by the US State Department in 2013 to help Reykjavik University (Iceland) in the areas of cloud computing, big data and information security. He holds a PhD from Stevens Institute of Technology (Systems engineering & Information Privacy), Hoboken, NJ and a Masters degree from Regis University, Denver, Colorado.