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Announcements Cary Estes November 08, 2023

Chengcui Zhang professor and Graduate Program Director in the Department of Computer Science.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Department of Computer Science is helping current tech professionals and students in the field learn how to defend against cyber-attacks with artificial intelligence.

That is the goal of a new Graduate Certificate in Cyber Security Analytics being offered in computer science. The five-course program is available through a combination of on-campus and online learning totaling 15 credit hours, making it ideal for current tech workers as well as students who want to add another layer of knowledge to their cyber-security credentials.

And this layer can be an important one to have, since the program focuses heavily on recent advances in artificial intelligence (AI) technology, and how these changes affect the continuing struggle over cyber security.

“Many of the old cyber security techniques are no longer sufficient for today’s workforce to deal with AI-enabled cyber-attacks,” said Chengcui Zhang, Ph.D., professor and Graduate Program Director in the Department of Computer Science. “To defend against the attacks launched by the bad guys, you need to know how they do things. If the good guys also have knowledge of contemporary AI techniques, they can better help the cyber security system and system managers monitor, analyze, and respond to emerging cyber-attacks in a timelier fashion.

“This certificate is part of this department’s effort in response to the federal cybersecurity research and development strategic plan. One of the priority areas of that plan is the emergence of threats posed by AI-enabled automatic cyber-attacks. That deserves serious consideration nowadays. This plan emphasizes the mutual needs of AI with cyber security.”

The certificate is designed to pair nicely with various other degrees and programs–including computer science, digital forensics, data science, and bioinformatics–combining to create a multi-faceted view of cyber security that synchs with the industrial practices and methods of today’s workforce.

“Stackable is a good way to describe it,” Department of Computer Science Chair Yuliang Zheng, Ph.D., says of the ability to add this certificate to other existing degrees. “It’s especially attractive to people who already have full-time jobs, because it only has five courses. It’s a way for them to take a small step rather than a big one, but still become more marketable.”

Photo of students using laptopsCompletion of the certificate is part of the department’s Scholarship for Service program, funded by a $4.6 million grant from the National Science Foundation. Eight students each year will be recruited to receive this two-year scholarship, which is aimed at training the next generation of cybersecurity professionals with an emphasis on applying machine learning and AI to solve real-world cybersecurity problems.

“We want students to understand how AI tools can fully enhance the tech to protect the system against attacks,” said Zhang. “The federal government is looking for professionals who not only have cyber-security skills but also have AI skills as well, so they can better protect data and the cyberinfrastructure.”

The addition of this certificate in cyber security analytics is part of the rapid growth the Department of Computer Science has enjoyed in recent years, expanding from less than 250 students in 2015 to more than 1,300 now. The department also received national recognition from Fortune magazine as having the top-rated master’s in cyber security degree program in the country for 2023.

“These state-of-the-art programs are very attractive to students local, national, and international. In fact, the bulk of our growth at the graduate level is from national and international markets,” said Zheng. “This new certificate is another indication of the quality of our programs.”

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