“Everything we do nowadays is online and on a computer,” said Blue River Computer Science Instructor Melissa Napper, “and everyone in networking should have skills to protect all of our information.”

There is a high demand on both the state and national level for workers capable of protecting computer network systems from hackers and intruders -- and MCC-Blue River community college in Independence is now offering training for that particular skillset.

A new series of courses in cyber security are now available at Blue River. The program, which began this semester on Jan. 16, is designed to help students move into a career as a cyber security professional or network administrator, said Blue River Public Information Officer Debbie Topi. Students now have the opportunity to earn either an Associate of Science with emphasis in cyber security or a certificate of that particular program, which should be available by next summer or fall.

To obtain an associate's degree with emphasis in cyber security, a student is required to take 14 specific courses relative to the area of study. These total around 69 to 73 credit hours and have some general education components as well, said Napper.

“These courses are essentially a good base foundation,” Napper said. “In order to secure a network, you have to understand how it operates first.” The first course of the cyber security program covers basic computer hardware that later leads to learning about actual networking. The program becomes more specialized with each subsequent course, such as Enterprise Security or Digital Forensics, a class that “students really like” where one learns about ways hackers break into a network.

For those who already have an IT or similar degree and needing extra certification to keep up with the dynamic field, a certificate in cyber security should be offered by this summer or fall at the latest, said Napper. She cites the certificate is not immediately available because Blue River is currently in the process of incorporating it into their curriculum. The certificate will be in line with other industry ones such as A+ or Cisco. It is 38 to 40 credit hours and offered to students who previously completed industry certifications within the past two years.

“An industry certificate that is relevant to the (Cyber Security) program will be in lieu of required courses,” said Napper. She adds it will be on a credit by credit basis.

As for the reason why someone with an IT or networking background would consider obtaining another certificate is because there are “varying levels of industry certification,” said Napper, and that many obtain them to further advance their careers.

“Some employers encourage their employees to keep up to date,” she said. “Most upper level certification requires hands-on working experience, and some of them are not for security.” For instance, a Certified Information Systems Security Professional certificate requires five years of actual work experience.

Napper also said Blue River has recently partnered with Fishnet Securities, an information security and infrastructure solutions provider based in Overland Park, Kansas, to “utilize their services with discount certification.” Although the parties haven’t worked out the details, she said certification is expensive, and hopefully that other companies like Fishnet will partner with Blue River to help fund the certification portion of the program; especially since the community college recently experienced a funding cut.

Above all, Blue River’s new cyber security program will empower future IT professionals to combat the growing numbers of reported information systems being hacked or valuable information stolen by intruders. The campus is one of  two community colleges in Missouri – with St. Louis Community College covering the eastern part of the state – to offer these courses. For more information about the cyber security program, call 816-604-1000 or visit www.mcckc.edu.