UND professor equips America’s next generation of data defenders

Prakash Ranganathan heading up important new online degree in cyber security this fall

Prakash Ranganathan and former student Eric Horton demonstrate a drone. Photo by Jackie Lorentz/UND Today

UND Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering Prakash Ranganathan (above right) scales the leading edge of cyber security innovation. He’ll launch a new online master’s degree program this fall by parterning with national leader Pearson Online Learning. Photo by Jackie Lorentz/UND Today.

It happens every day.

You hear about a security breach, and hope your data is safe. Most of all, you hope the problem is fixed and your data stays secure.

The problem is — there just aren’t enough experts to protect that data.

Prakash Ranganathan

Prakash Ranganathan

A new UND online master’s degree in cyber security will help address that shortage.

“The cyber threats are real,” said Prakash Ranganathan, assistant professor of electrical engineering and cyber security program director. “The number of cyber security-related jobs already outpaces the number of qualified people, and that demand is growing rapidly.”

UND’s new online master’s of science degree offers four tracks that enable students to study how best to anticipate and stop hackers, including autonomous systems, data security, cyber security and behavior, and general cyber security. It is housed at the College of Engineering & Mines.

Starting this fall, students can earn the degree in just 22 months, an attractive proposition for those seeking to study online and quickly gain high-demand skills. The program delivers one course at a time every seven weeks, allowing students to focus and master each topic. It also incorporates a multi-month capstone course so students can practice solving a real-world security situation in an industry environment.

The degree is offered through the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the UND College of Engineering & Mines, but it’s an interdisciplinary program that also includes psychology and math. It’s open to anyone with a bachelor’s degree, regardless of major. A bridge course covers basics for students without programming, circuits, calculus and statistics knowledge.

Well-rounded program

“A well-rounded program is key,” said Ranganathan, who noted that faculty from a number of disciplines designed the curriculum and will teach courses including electrical engineering, computer science, mathematics, mechanical engineering and psychology. Cyber security industry experts will co-teach some courses and modules.

“There is a need in the state and nation for this program,” said Ranganathan, adding that in 2017, millions of U.S. citizens were affected by cyber crime. “Attacks are growing in frequency and sophistication, whether they are large-scale incidents affecting millions of people, or small-scale events impacting only a few.” Between 2017 and 2020, cyber security spending is expected to exceed $1 trillion, he said.

With a background in cyber data and sensors, Ranganathan is an active cyber security researcher who includes students in a number of funded projects, including a Rockwell Collins-funded project. His expertise is focused on defending and securing the power grid, developing secure software, data security, and optimization models. In addition to teaching, Ranganathan is part of the UND Research Institute for Autonomous Systems (RIAS), where is serves as lead for cyber security and data supply chain issues.

UND's new cyber security master's degree offers four tracks that enable students to study how best to anticipate and stop hackers, including autonomous systems, data security, cyber security and behavior, and general cyber security. Stock image by Stocksy

UND’s new cyber security master’s degree offers four tracks that enable students to study how best to anticipate and stop hackers, including autonomous systems, data security, cyber security and behavior, and general cyber security. Stock image by Stocksy.

Leading the way

UND has been in the forefront of this area and UND’s research and academic strengths make this a particularly well-rounded program.

“I’m so excited that our new School of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science will continue to offer online programs in strategically important areas for our state, region and nation,” said Hesham El-Rewini, dean of the College of Engineering & Mines. “In addition to cyber security, the school offers programs in data science, computer science, electrical engineering and bio-medical engineering.”

“This is a UND Engineering program,” said Ranganathan. “It builds on decades of Engineering’s expertise in online programs, and we’ve added the specialized services of a third party to ensure an even larger presence in online education. UND was one of the first in the nation to offer online engineering programs and we are continuing to lead the way by adding to our offerings.”

Pearson Online Learning will help develop the digital presentation of course content and market the program and provide student support services.

Other programs offered in Cyber Security this fall are a bachelor’s of science degree, available both on-campus and online, and a graduate certificate.

The new degrees help fulfill Goal 3 of the One UND Strategic Plan, deliver opportunity online and on-campus.

“I am very excited that UND faculty members are committed to offering such important courses and programs that students want and are so relevant to current society needs,” said UND Provost Thomas DiLorenzo.

“Employers increasingly want to see experience in the new graduates they are looking to hire,” said Hesham El-Rewini, dean of the College of Engineering & Mines. “Not only does participation in an internship or coop make the student a more attractive candidate but it also enables the student to gain valuable experience while they take their career path on a test drive.”

“The College of Engineering & Mines and the departments of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science are at the forefront of providing a cyber security degree program completely online,” said Jeff Holm, faculty fellow/vice provost for online education & strategic planning. “It is an excellent addition to UND’s online degree offerings and demonstrates the kind of forward-thinking that has characterized the College under Dean El-Rewini’s leadership.”

“The United States is at a crucial juncture,” said Ranganathan. “Cyber threats and successful attacks increase every day, yet academic institutions struggle to produce students who can be effective in the fight. Today’s cyber security experts must possess a strong understanding of 21st-century cyber criminals, their methodologies, tools and constantly evolving strategies. UND’s program is unique.”