New curriculum will equip students when faced with ethical dilemmas in cybersecurity

Masooda Bashir
Masooda Bashir, Associate Professor

Whether you're a cybersecurity student, researcher, or professional, you are likely to confront difficult ethical dilemmas that can have significant implications. Equipped with skills like malware knowledge and hacking techniques, those in the field of cybersecurity have inside knowledge that can be powerful and potentially dangerous. There is a growing need to tether this power to an awareness of the complex web of potential consequences, critical ethical reasoning skills, and perhaps most importantly, a sense of social responsibility to ensure this power is used for the greater good.

To better prepare cybersecurity students to manage the heavy burden of responsibility that comes with access to information and technological skills, University of Illinois researchers, including iSchool Assistant Professor Masooda Bashir, are working to develop an academic curriculum focused specifically on cybersecurity ethics. A key goal is to get students to think through ethical challenges inherent in cybersecurity at the same time as they are developing technological skills.

The Illinois researchers received a $277,000 grant from the National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense, which is interested in developing innovative approaches to cybersecurity education. In addition to Bashir, who is co-principal investigator on the grant, the team includes Jane Blanken-Webb, postdoctoral research associate in the Information Trust Institute, and Roy Campbell, computer science professor and associate dean for information technology. They are working with Nicholas Burbules, education professor and education director and principal investigator at the National Center for Professional and Research Ethics.

The team plans to launch a class in 2018 that primarily will consist of case studies based on cybersecurity topics, such as misinformation, professional versus societal obligations, privacy versus security, and implications of big data. Some of the case studies will be hypothetical, but the researchers are also pulling from actual events and are working with the community, professionals in the field, and an advisory committee to develop realistic and challenging scenarios.

In the future, the entire curriculum will be adapted for community colleges, graduate colleges, or as continuing education for those currently working in the field. 

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