Bringing Systems Integration Skills to Cybersecurity Degree Students

June 14, 2017
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4 min read

For the third year, the Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG) at the University of Warwick will run the Enterprise Cyber Security (ECS) module, which is part of the institution’s Master of Science in Cyber Security and Management program.

The individual degree modules offer students a solid set of security skills, culminating with the ECS module, which is taught by IBM Security professionals in the U.K. It consolidates the individual degree modules to help students visualize cybersecurity as an integrated system.

A Lesson in Systems Integration for Cybersecurity Degree Students

Cybersecurity is often discussed as individual products, technologies or processes to be deployed for protection. In reality, it is a set of interrelated security components that comprise an integrated system. Without each element operating effectively, the strength of the control environment is much weaker. IT professionals need a holistic approach to designing security systems, and the module aims to instill just that.

The program also encourages students with a range of different qualifications to develop cybersecurity skills. This approach is supported by ISC2’s “2017 Global Information Security Workforce Study,” which demonstrated the importance of hiring professionals with nontechnical degrees. We also designed the module to allow students with various levels of experience to practice cybersecurity techniques at the enterprise and solution architecture levels.

Actors, Processes and Data

When implementing a security program, analysts should always start by creating an inventory or registry of information asset records. Then, perform a risk assessment to guide the security controls that protect the data.

In the past, it was simple: Data was created and then processed in a mainframe, so it was easy to locate. Today, information travels between many systems, and it can be difficult to determine where it comes to rest. As data is processed, new metadata is created and transmitted to additional systems for storage.

A Realistic Use Case

When we think about security controls, we must think about the actors in a system that initiate processes, including the creation of new metadata. The course starts with the simple practice of drawing a system context diagram to help identify the data to protect in transit and at rest.

To help cybersecurity degree students think about this problem, we created a scenario to bring some business context to their thinking. Last year, we generated a city council portal and challenged students to deal with transactions requiring payment card industry (PCI) compliance.

This year, we used a medical device scenario that included FDA regulations. We asked the students to think about the implications of where the data flows with the added complication of sending personal data from a European country to a cloud infrastructure hosted in the U.S.

We added some nonfunctional requirements by specifying cloud applications with 99.999 percent availability, which then implicitly requires consideration about the availability of the security controls. With the added complication of out-of-support technology, we injected a bit more realism. It certainly made the students think!

Reinforcing the Lesson With Practices and Artifacts

There is nothing like practice to reinforce learning, so each unit consists of a lecture, followed by an exercise to create an artifact using the techniques discussed and team presentations of the resulting output. Each artifact is based on practices we use in our work with clients. Cybersecurity degree students should leave with a kit of tools and techniques they can use in their postgraduation roles.

When creating a security solution, it’s critical to document the architectural thinking process, so we took the students through the essential project toolkit of a security architect. They learned about the definition of architectural decisions and how to document risks, issues, assumptions and dependencies (RAID) in a log.

For yet another layer of realism, we encouraged the class to use Mural for virtual whiteboards and Box Notes for shared document creation. It made the feedback sessions much easier and enabled the students to experience the way we work within IBM.

Considering People, Process, Technology and Information

Throughout the week, we mixed the perspectives, starting with people, process and data, with the system context. We gave the students some practice in enterprise architecture, taught them to communicate at the C-level, and explained the definition of process flows for identity and access management (IAM), which can be applied in many different scenarios.

We used the NIST Cyber Security Framework as a starting point for technical controls and went on to consider how the technical components are integrated with the added complexity of a hybrid cloud environment.

The effectiveness of security detection and response depends on good security intelligence. We discussed how this intelligence is collected and explained how tools such as Jupyter help analysts manage the data. We even got to discuss quantum computing and its potential impact on cryptography.

Sharing Cybersecurity Experiences

The course is developed and taught by security professionals who are thought leaders in their field. The students hear from practitioners who can recount their actual experiences working on real business problems.

In teaching the course, my colleagues and I enjoyed working with the next generation of enthusiastic cybersecurity professionals. In fact, we are already thinking about ways to make next year’s course even better — and make the future of cybersecurity that much brighter.

Mark Buckwell
UKI Chief Technical Officer, IBM

Based in the UK, Mark provides technical leadership for the UK and Ireland professional services team within IBM Security. Mark is an experienced security te...
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