Matters of Security
Steven Hernandez, 36, is young to be the chief information security officer for the Office of the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, based in Washington, D.C.
Less than 10 years after graduating from Idaho State University’s information assurance program, Hernandez, a Blackfoot native, has achieved a General Schedule 15 civil service ranking, commonly known as a GS-15. This is equivalent to a one-star general ranking in the military and is the highest GS ranking – anyone ranked higher is in the Senior Executive Service.
His fast rise in his profession is testimony to the quality of ISU’s cyber security programs.
“ISU is a pioneer in the cybersecurity field and I benefitted from this ground-breaking work,” Hernandez said. “My rapid career advancement is due directly to the education I received at ISU, which combines comprehensive technical knowledge with a business background.”
Hernandez first earned an Associate of Applied Science degree in electronic systems from the ISU College of Technology, and then earned a Bachelor of Business Administration degree with an emphasis in computer information systems in the ISU College of Business. Following that, he earned a Master of Business Administration degree with an emphasis in information assurance and computer information systems from ISU’s Informatics Research Institute and National Information Assurance Training and Education Center.
“ISU gave me the options to address deep technical issues and then focus on cyber security as a specialized field,” Hernandez said. “What really differentiated the program was its combination with the background from the MBA from the College of Business. This unique mixture helps me take very complex security risks and technical issues and translate them into a business or mission impact for my stakeholders. It allows me to give my employers the strategic information they need.”
Hernandez is not alone in recognizing the quality of ISU’s cyber security programs. Other universities are emulating its curriculum, combining a technical and business education. Furthermore, last fall, the U.S. departments of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency again recognized Idaho State University as a National Center of Academic Excellence for Cyber Security.
ISU and University of Idaho have the longest-running information assurance and cyber security programs in the state, said Professor Dr. Corey Schou, director of the ISU Informatics Research Institute and National Information Assurance Training and Education Center. The center was one of the first Centers of Excellence designated by the National Security Agency more than 15 years ago. The ISU program is the only one certified to teach all Committee on National Security Systems and National Security Information courses at the advanced level.
The ISU cyber security programs are accredited in 10 different cyber security specialty areas. The institute and the center at ISU were also responsible for developing a variety of standards for security systems containing national security information.
ISU’s Informatics Research Institute and the ISU NIATEC’s ground-breaking research led to the most widely used common body of knowledge for industry and government, Schou said. “Our teams help design safeguards to cyber security threats, help train people and identify and deal with threats,” Schou said. “Information assurance is to make sure the right people, and no one else, have the right information at the right time, for the right price. Information assurance is critical o defending critical infrastructure.”
There is high demand for the ISU cyber security program and there is currently a wait list to get into it.
“We’ve had 100-percent job placement rates for our graduates since the programs’ inception, and recently, we have received more than $3 million for specialized scholarships to develop computer security experts for the federal government,” Schou said.
Students from ISU who earn a certificate in informatics focusing on cyber security along with their Master of Business Administration degree find employment for national agencies throughout the country.
“Some of our graduates stay in the region to meet their service requirements; many who leave the return to the intermountain area – including Pocatello, Idaho Falls and Rexburg. Most of our graduates come from within 250 miles of Pocatello, but this is not to say that we do not recruit nationally – we have students from all over the country,” Schou said.
A recent ISU cyber security alumnus who remained in Idaho is Ray Fox, who graduated in May 2014 and now works at the Idaho National Laboratory, and the Department of Homeland Security Industrial Control System–Computer Emergency Response Team.
“The NIATEC program at ISU provided me with a breadth of knowledge that I continue to use in the ever evolving environment of information assurance,” Fox said. “Information assurance is critical to every system and networks risk management plan. Those responsible for providing uninterrupted services are acutely aware of the importance of information assurance. Others only become aware of it when there is a problem, like the OPM Breach or the Sony Hack.”
Since the graduates of the ISU program must work for the U.S. government they have access to experiential learning opportunities including handling classified material to cyber war simulations, which have been built by ISU students in the past decades, Schou said. ISU’s cyber security efforts are the basis for international professional certification. The IRI/NIATEC has also developed cyber security competitions for universities worldwide.
“The accolades are nice, but I am more proud of our students,” Schou said.
“ISU is a pioneer in the cybersecurity field and I benefitted from this ground-breaking work. My rapid career advancement is due directly to the education I received at ISU … ”
– Steven Hernandez