Thursday, May 26, 2011

What is the U.S. Federal Government doing about the need for information assurance (IA) education?

By Auston Holt, CISSP

Education plays a vital role in reducing the number of vulnerabilities that threaten today's networked world. I'm very happy to see that the U.S. Government has been taking an active role in this regard by designating some schools as information security learning centers.

These identified National Centers of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education (CAE/IAE) and CAE-Research (CAE-R) are four-year colleges and graduate-level universities that have been designated as such by the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security. These schools are specified as having an acceptable information assurance curriculum and an overall commitment to IA education. The goal in such a designation is to reduce vulnerabilities in our national information infrastructure - by promoting higher education and research in IA, and producing a growing number of professionals with IA expertise in various disciplines (National Centers of Academic Excellence).

You might ask, what is information assurance (IA) and how is it different from the term “information security?” The National Centers of Academic Excellence website explains:

“Information Assurance comprises measures that protect and defend information and information systems by ensuring their availability, integrity, authentication, confidentiality, and non-repudiation. These measures include providing for restoration of information systems by incorporating protection, detection, and reaction capabilities.” (definition from the National Information Assurance Glossary, Committee on National Security Systems Instruction (CNSSI) 4009, revised June 2006)

Basically, IA can be interpreted as a more all-encompassing understanding of what we know of as “information security” today (it goes beyond stating the definition of confidentiality, integrity, and availability). Schools designated as CAE/IAEs and CAE-Rs must demonstrate a commitment to IA education with the following:

  1. Collaboration
  2. IA Treated as a multidisciplinary science
  3. Encouraged practice of IA
  4. Academic programs encouraging student research in IA
  5. Faculty active in current IA practice and research
  6. IA resources
  7. Robust and active IA academic program
  8. Declared center for IA education
  9. Adequate number of IA faculty and student course load

A complete explanation of the criteria can be found here.

So far, 123 schools have been designated as CAE/IAEs and CAE-Rs. Although I was sad that the University of Texas at Austin was not included in that list, I was happy to see that the state of Texas leads the nation, along with Maryland, for having the most schools that met the criteria (each state has nine such schools). A complete listing of all CAE/IAEs and CAE-Rs and more information on National Centers of Academic Excellence can be found here.

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