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about dena haritos tsamitis

Dena Haritos TsamitisDena Haritos Tsamatis is the director of the Information Networking Institute, the Director of CyLab Education, Training & Outreach.  For Carnegie Mellon CyLab, she is responsible for the strategic planning, implementation, and assessment of information security/assurance executive education, capacity building, and outreach programs. To achieve CyLab's mission of making 10 million citizens worldwide "cyberaware", Tsamitis is designing and developing outreach and awareness initiatives, including the MySecureCyberspace game for children and portal for users at all levels.

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CyLab Chronicles

Q&A with Dena Haritos Tsamitis

posted by Richard Power

CyLab Chronicles: In your 2008 interview with CyLab Chronicles, you gave us a thumbnail sketch of the evolution of INI; and the vital role it has taken on. To start out in this 2009 update, please give us an overview of the graduate programs available through INI and how what these degree programs offer the student that differentiates INI from other programs?

Dena Haritos Tsamitis: The INI offers 16- to 20-month professional master’s programs in information networking, information security, mobility, and software management. Our flagship program is the Master of Science in Information Networking (MSIN), which was inspired by a call from industry, specifically Bellcore, for graduates with an understanding of business and policy in addition to technology. Carnegie Mellon is a top-ranked university in all of these areas of study. Our second oldest program is the Master of Science in Information Security Technology and Management (MSISTM), which was established in 2003 by Pradeep K. Khosla, who perceived a growing national concern for cybersecurity. The newest offerings are the three bi-coastal programs in Mobility (MSIT-MOB), Information Security (MSIT-IS), and Software Management (MSIT-SM), known as the Pittsburgh-Silicon Valley Master of Science in Information Technology programs. With the bi-coastal structure, students spend the first two semesters studying in Pittsburgh, and a summer and the final semester collaborating with Carnegie Mellon faculty and industry partners in Silicon Valley.

Three fundamental aspects differentiate our programs from others, with the first being the INI’s interdisciplinary focus that ensures our graduates are strong technically but also have strong management skills and an understanding of policy, and the second being the flexibility within the curriculum that allows students to shape their program into what they want it to be. Yes, our graduates become system architects, software engineers, researchers and security consultants, but they also enter the financial industry, join government agencies, take management positions, and start their own companies. The third strength of our programs is the global perspective our students gain, thanks to our partnerships with international institutions in Greece, Japan and Portugal.

CyLab Chronicles: Tell us about the Information Assurance Capacity Building Program (IACBP). What is its goal? How does it work? Who is the program designed to benefit? What is the aim of the course content? What is the takeaway for participating students? What kind of results are we seeing in terms of capacity building?

Haritos Tsamitis: Through the efforts of CyLab and the INI, Carnegie Mellon has been designated by the federal government as a Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance. In that capacity, we aim to establish programs and initiatives, such as the IACBP, that will shore up the nations’ information infrastructure in the interest of maintaining a strong economy and national security.

The IACBP is designed to build capacity at minority-serving institutions, including Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), to develop curricula with academic enrichment from both Carnegie Mellon CyLab and the INI. The goal is to build capacity for universities and colleges nationwide to offer high quality educational programs in information assurance.

We conduct the IACBP by inviting faculty for an extended stay in Pittsburgh during the summer. First, they receive lectures, seminars and lab demonstrations from top Carnegie Mellon faculty in information security, and then they work under their guidance to design new curricula that they can take back and implement at their home institutions.

In summer 2009, we are offering the seventh edition of the program, through grants from the National Science Foundation. To date, the IACBP fellows have implemented over a dozen new courses, six new degree options and 14 new certificate programs, workshops and symposia. Some participating institutions have since become designated Centers of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance, including California State Polytechnic University at Pomona, California State University at San Bernardino, and Texas A&M University.

CyLab Chronicles: In the year since our previous interview, a severe economic crisis has gripped the nation and the planet. From your unique vantage point, how do you see this downturn has impacted information security and assurance in general, and information security and assurance education in particular? Looking forward, what do you see?

Haritos Tsamitis: Information security is just as important, if not more, than it has been. Companies and organizations may need to make cutbacks, but they are avoiding those cutbacks in information security and may even be reinforcing their efforts in that area. Nothing illustrates the importance of information security better than the current activities of our federal government to establish a cyber command within the military and the appointment of a cyber coordinator with access to the Oval Office.

As our nation emphasizes the importance of information security to the economy and infrastructure, higher education is not only tasked with preparing graduates for the workforce, but also to attract talented youth and young professionals to pursue careers in the field. The graduating class of the INI consistently achieves 100% post-graduation placement rate, and the Class of 2009 is no exception despite the recession. The challenge for information security education is to have enough qualified, motivated learners sitting at our desks at the beginning of each semester, so we can meet the high demand for our students at graduation.

CyLab Chronicles: Of course, because you are both CyLab Education Director and INI Director, we also want to touch on the area of cyber security awareness. Over this last year, MySecureCyberspace has focused on Cyber Bullying among other issues. As reported in the New York Times (7-2-09), a US federal judge recently "threw out the conviction of a Missouri woman on charges of computer fraud for her role in creating a false MySpace account to dupe a teenager, who later committed suicide." What are your thoughts on this story, and its lessons and implications?

Haritos Tsamitis: Cyberbullying is a prevalent cyber threat, more commonly encountered by children than incidents of Internet predators. Extreme cases have led to suicide, but numerous cases have been devastating to families who have had to completely repair a child’s confidence and even pull them out of a school to start fresh elsewhere. While the legal outcome of the Megan Meier case was disappointing, it drew national attention to the problem of cyberbullying, which so often takes place behind closed doors or shielded from view on a teenager’s cell phone.

The sad fact is that Internet technology advances at a much more rapid pace than our laws evolve. I think certainly we can expect to see more laws that govern and protect Internet users, but we can also expect them to come only after Internet users have suffered the consequences of making mistakes online or falling for the traps and decoys of cyber criminals. Each cyber crime reinforces the imperative for educators to spread cyberawareness by teaching safe Internet and secure computing practices at home, at work, and in our schools. The MySecureCyberspace initiative, which includes an information-rich web portal and interactive game for kids, is based on the belief that each user must take responsibility to secure his or her own part of cyberspace.

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