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College of Business Is a Leader in Cyber Security and Data Analytics

Cyber security classIt has become too commonplace to learn about major data breaches at financial institutions, retail stores or restaurant chains.

Traditional cyber security methods are not enough to stop these attacks. But, with the advent of new analytical tools including deep learning and artificial intelligence, cyber professionals are going on the offensive to prevent these occurrences.

As we enter this new era of digital revolution, big data and cyber security professionals are collaborating to make revolutionary advances in these fields.

Recognizing this trend, the UTSA College of Business has positioned itself as a leader in the fields of cyber security and data analytics.

UTSA’s cyber security program is ranked No. 1 in the nation by the Ponemon Institute, and UTSA’s cyber security graduate programs were ranked No. 2 by Universities.com.

Bolstered by UTSA President Taylor Eighmy’s initiative to make UTSA a preeminent center for cyber security and data science, the university has invested significant resources to hire faculty members in cyber security, artificial intelligence and analytics and data science.

As a result of this initiative, 10 new tenure-track faculty members specializing in analytics and cyber security were hired in the College of Business in the past three years.

The university’s unique approach includes researchers from a variety of disciplines including business, science, engineering and liberal and fine arts. These researchers work in multiple centers and institutes focused on solving global security challenges.

“UTSA thinks outside the box,” said Nicole Beebe, director of the college’s Cyber Center for Security and Analytics. “Interdisciplinary work doesn’t just help research efforts in cyber security and analytics, it’s a flat-out necessity.”

Combining the talents of UTSA’s data science faculty, the university is forming a National Security Collaboration Center and a School of Data Science to advance research, education and workforce development in these areas. UTSA researchers will collaborate with industry and government partners to solve cyber/analytics challenges.

Cyber attacks are more frequent, more sophisticated and more pervasive than ever before. According to a Verizon Data Breach report, more than 50 percent of data breaches remain undiscovered for months. And, cyber crime costs $118 billion annually from theft of information assets, disruption of service and more.

The traditional cyber security approaches were mainly defensive and involved thwarting phishing and malware penetrations as well as identifying patterns of unusual network activity.

But with the increased sophistication of the hackers and the volume of attacks, these traditional approaches are not enough. Cyber security professionals are tasked with finding a needle in the haystack. In order to be successful and stay ahead of the hackers, cyber professionals are turning to machine learning and artificial intelligence to assist through the use of predictive analytics.

Machine learning utilizes statistical models to allow computers to learn information that wasn’t explicitly programmed through data analysis.

“The speed at which we need to make decisions and the ability to see patterns quickly are two reasons why machine learning is critical,” said Beebe.

She and colleague Paul Rad, associate professor in the College of Business and assistant director of the UTSA Open Cloud Institute, are studying the use of cognitive learning to teach computers to learn without having to explicitly program them.

“Our goal here is to teach the machine to become smarter, so that it can help us. That’s what they’re here to do,” Rad said. “So how do we become better? We learn from experience.”

A recent survey by the Ponemon Institute found that 65 percent of IT and security practitioners said the use of big data analytics is essential to ensuring a strong cyber security posture.

“There are incredible synergies between cyber and data,” said Max Kilger, director of the college’s Data Analytics program. “The digital domain is creating large amounts of data, but 99.9 percent of it is innocuous. The hard part is finding the .1 percent that is malicious.”

Kilger compares this process to a human’s vision. Ordinary eyesight is unable to see the attack patterns. But, with the use of data analytical tools, computers can find patterns that we would never have seen before—much like vision coming into focus with the use of glasses.

“Given the complementary nature of cyber security and data analytics, we’ve built upon UTSA’s No. 1 ranking in cyber security to recruit elite faculty members in these areas,” said Wm. Gerard Sanders, dean and Bodenstedt Chair in the College of Business. “We’re positioning the college to be an internationally prominent player in the business of cyber security and big data.”

CYBER SECURITY

Recognizing this trend, the college’s Department of Information Systems and Cyber Security has shifted to focus more on cyber security. And the student interest has increased as well with the college’s cyber programs growing by over 350 percent in the last three years. In addition to the new tenure-track cluster hires, the department had to hire seven full-time faculty to cover the increased student demand this semester.

“Information systems used to be a relatively small discipline, but with the rise of technology came the expansion of the field,” said Charles Liu, associate professor of information systems. “The expertise brought by our new faculty helps us diversify our research and teaching portfolio and better accommodates the constantly shifting demand from industry.”

Offering classes in cyber security since 2001, the college’s academic lineup includes a B.B.A. in cyber security, an online B.B.A. in cyber security, a B.B.A. in information systems, a master’s degree in information technology with a concentration in cyber security, a Ph.D. in information technology and executive education certificates.

New tracks in cyber analytics at the undergraduate level and analytics and artificial intelligence at the doctorate level have recently been launched to address these changes to the field. In addition, based on industry demand, the first part-time doctoral students in information technology begin next year.

The convergence of big data and cyber security has also been reflected in recent updates to the department’s curriculum. Traditional courses in intrusion detection and digital forensics are now paired with new coursework in applied big data with machine learning, cyber operations and secure mobile app development.

“There is not another program in the country that can hold a candle to the breadth and depth of our cyber program,” said David Dampier, chair of the Department of Information Systems and Cyber Security.

Cyber security is an extremely diverse field with highly-technical specialties such as cryptography and digital forensics as well as disciplines in cyber behavior and policy. The college’s cyber security majors take 33 hours of coursework in cyber security, and they can choose from over 25 courses.

Another strength of the college’s cyber security program is its applied nature. “We are equipping students with the skills that they need to be relevant and successful in the real world,” said Raymond Choo, Cloud Technology Endowed Associate Professor in the College of Business. “Our faculty’s research has real world applications, and that is integrated into the classroom.”

One such research project involves addressing the vulnerability and security of contemporary technologies such as Internet of Things (IoT) devices. The IoT is a network of physical devices, vehicles, home appliances and other items embedded with software or other technology that allows them to connect with each other and exchange data. It’s estimated that the IoT will include 20 billion objects by 2020.

Business faculty members Beebe, Choo and Rad in collaboration with engineering faculty member Qian Chen received a grant from the Texas National Security Network Excellence Fund to support the creation of an Internet of Things Security & Forensics Laboratory.

Faculty and students will work to identify vulnerabilities and security countermeasures of commercial, military and home IoT devices; develop forensic data as well as new tools and procedures for acquiring evidence of cyber attacks; and develop and deliver operational training to UTSA’s security partners.

DATA ANALYTICS

Big data refers to data sets that are too large and complex for traditional data processing and management. With the volume of data doubling every three years, new tools must be developed to handle this information overload.

This data is analyzed by companies across a variety of industries to improve business processes and outcomes through evidence-based decision making. It is also used to spark innovations in product development and design.

Marketing faculty member Ashwin Malshe has been working with Rad on research analyzing brand imagery. By inputting brand images into the computer, they can develop a model to determine which images are appropriate for that brand.

“After I started teaching in this program, I became more interested in machine learning,” said Malshe, assistant professor of marketing. “Marketing is visual. If we can come up with a method to determine brand fit, it would be beneficial to companies.”

According to a recent study by the McKinsey Global Institute, it will be vital for organizations to build the capabilities of executives and mid-level managers to understand these data-driven insights. But, the challenge is the industry is predicting a shortfall of 250,000 data science professionals in the coming years.

The UTSA College of Business is a leader in data analytics training. With more than 120 majors, the college launched its Master of Science in Data Analytics (MSDA) program in 2016. Offered in both daytime and evening formats, the MSDA program produces highly-skilled and educated data analysts who can convert the growing amount of data confronting all organizations into usable information for decision makers across a variety of disciplines.

“Students are only limited by their tools and their imagination,” said Kilger. “Data is not useful if you can’t tell a story about it. We’re training our students to be able to communicate their results to a non-technical audience.”

The multidisciplinary program features faculty from the Department of Information Systems and Cyber Security, the Department of Management Science and Statistics and the Department of Marketing.

“Data analytics is a broad field,” said Mark Leung, chair of the Department of Management Science and Statistics. “We’ve assembled a diverse faculty who are applying analytics to a variety of fields such as finance, health care and supply chain management.”

“Our coursework has been designed exclusively for this program,” said Malshe. “We’re teaching students how to apply the tools to analyze data in any field and become successful data analysts.”

Students take classes in areas such as data analytics applications, data driven decision making, data analytics tools and techniques, data visualization and data algorithms. They also gain experience in a number of industry standard platforms and data architecture such as R, SAS, Python and Hadoop.

“The program is rigorous and fast-paced just like the real world data analytics environment,” said Kilger.

Drawing upon experiential learning, students apply their education by performing real-world data analytics.

Classmates and colleagues James Perry and Robert Steele completed a project as part of their data foundations class that resulted not only in a top grade, but also benefited their employer.

“We saw a unique opportunity to leverage the skills we learned in web scraping to help improve patient care at our company,” said Perry, a risk management analyst. “This was a groundbreaking new process for our company because it allowed us to gather patient data that we did not have in our own data streams and place into the hands of our providers who need it to provide better care for our patients.”

Using Python programming learned in class, they developed an automated process to retrieve data for 6,000 new patients. The benefits to their employer were substantial and represented a potential $3.4 million dollars in revenue.

In addition to the master’s program, the College of Business has found additional ways to incorporate analytics into the business curriculum. Undergraduates can major in Statistics and Data Science or earn a certificate in business analytics. Or, graduate students can pursue a theoretical approach in the Master’s in Statistics and Data Science program. Business leaders interested in learning the nuances of data analytics can enroll in executive education programming through the college’s Center for Professional Excellence.

Emphasizing the applied nature of this program, students participate in two practicum experiences before graduation where they must work with companies to solve their data challenges. Industry partners have included Booz Allen Hamilton, the City of San Antonio, Harland Clarke, H-E-B, USAA and Valero.

Always looking for new collaborations, Kilger invites organizations to contact him to discuss how business students can help solve their organization’s analytical problems.

While new challenges are pervasive in this digital revolution, the UTSA College of Business is prepared to answer that call by training much-needed professionals in cyber security and analytics and advancing fundamental research with our world-class faculty.

Wendy Frost

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