Security and identity management are intertwining for an advanced degree program at The University of Texas at Austin. The new master’s program is being touted as the first of its kind.
The Master of Science in Identity Management and Security (MSIMS) program is slated to welcome its inaugural class in the spring of 2016, with all applications due November 1. The program is designed to help fill a growing demand for jobs around trusted transactions, secure identity and privacy protection.
The MSIMS degree is a collaboration between the university’s School of Information and Center for Identity. Administrators say the program is a response to an identified need in government, law enforcement and business. Organizers have compiled courses to incorporate training from multiple fields. Faculty members from across the UT Austin campus with expertise in technology, engineering, business, communications and public affairs will teach in the MSIMS program.
“Identity is not something that has formal programs built around it in a way that technology or even security might have,” says Lance Hayden, adjunct professor at UT’s iSchool. Hayden is also managing director of the Berkeley Research Group, a consulting firm with a technology advisory practice. He has seen firsthand the need for more identity experts in the marketplace.
“If you are interested in information and how it specifically applies to identifying and managing that border between the virtual and the real in all different aspects – legal, business, technology and social – there’s going to be something in this program for you,” Hayden explains. “I haven’t seen anything else that takes that approach or covers it that widely.”
The master’s degree features nine courses with names like “Identity Communication” and “The Policy of Identity.” The university wanted the two-year program to be accessible for working professionals, so courses will be offered one weekend per month. Up to half of the students will have the option of attending via synchronous online learning, with enrollment likely to be capped at 25 students in the beginning.
“There aren’t any industries or any public, private or industrial sectors that don’t rely on information in today’s economy,” said Hayden, who will lecture on cyber and information security. “So I think that we’re going to get a wide variety of people in the program. They’re not all going to be technologists. They’re going to come from a wide range of fields.”
The partnership between the iSchool and the Center for Identity was born out of discussions around the need for a new kind of profession. Identity management has become a key player in government, corporate and industrial settings. But Andrew Dillon, dean of the iSchool, says the skills needed to provide such secure environments aren’t always well-defined or tied to any one discipline. So faculty members conceptualized what a degree program in this space should look like.
“We think there’s not really a single disciplinary title you could say this is. It’s partly technical, there’s a lot of computational science, there’s some policy, there’s some law, there’s some social science in it – we have to understand human behavior,” Dillon says. “Today’s identity management workforce needs leaders who are as comfortable making policy recommendations and risk management assessments as they are making technological decisions.”
Many companies have grown their own local experts with the blossoming of the digital age. For years, employees from a variety of educational disciplines have been able to handle the technological needs of the workplace. But Dillon says that’s no longer enough.
“I think that we’ve just seen the explosion in information management, information security, privacy issues, concerns with managing consumer data through time,” Dillon says. “It’s necessary now that we formalize the kinds of credentials and the kind of educational prep that professionals who want to work in this area can receive.”
Early in the MSIMS program, Dillon expects that most of the students will come bearing degrees in IT, computer science, and engineering. But he believes that anyone who is well-educated, even in the liberal arts, can bring as much to this area as someone with a more computational or technical background.
“We might find some of our strongest applicants actually come from social sciences and the humanities because they’re asking intelligent questions about issues related to policy, security and information management,” Dillon says. “But they themselves, not having the technical skills, will come for the master’s which they hope will give them those sorts of skills.”
With Austin as the state capital, Dillon says a number of government agencies have expressed interest in sending their personnel to the program so they can then return to the government sector as information security analysts and identity management professionals.
“Companies increasingly recognize that this is an area where they can’t be vulnerable and that there’s a shortage of talent,” Dillon explains. “In the commercial sector, we see tremendous growth potential in the number of information security jobs and identity management officer positions.”
There’s a shortage of talent and we see tremendous growth potential in the number of information security jobs and identity management officer positions
Identity management as a formal discipline
MSIMS graduates will be apt to join some of the fastest growing careers in today’s market, according to the Texas Workforce Commission. Administrators say the program will prepare students for mid- and executive-level leadership positions in government, law enforcement and the private sector.
In a workforce study on identity management and security, UT asked companies what kind of knowledge, skills and abilities they want in prospective employees. The study found that jobs requiring attributes provided by the new master’s program have grown by more than 150% over the last four years.
“We’re focusing on this sensitive, personal identifiable information, and the solutions that we need to better manage that information, secure it and protect it from theft and fraud,” says Suzanne Barber, director of UT’s Center for Identity. “That’s where you get that multi-disciplinary solution that is so unique.”
Barber sees a high demand for employees who understand all the ways that information needs to be managed and secured.
“Try to buy anything, try to do anything on the internet without providing information about yourself. Your identity is currency online,” Barber says. “So we really have got to figure out, in order to secure our information, how to conduct these more secure transactions.”
“Think about all of the passwords and the key cards to get in buildings. Managing this is an important part of the leadership that an organization needs,” adds Barber. “Any organization that is collecting PII and is therefore responsible for its management and caretaking will need leaders in this area.”
For Hayden, a security expert for 25 years, this new program is about creating experts who understand the phenomenon of implementing evolving and better solutions for identity.
“You’ve got identity theft and you’ve got hackers stealing passwords and credentials. We’re not going to put that genie back in the bottle,” Hayden says. “The digital age is here and identity is a core component of it. We have to be able manage and protect it effectively to achieve its full value.”