Facebook, MSU highlight cybersecurity partnership

January 12, 2018 11:11:28 AM

Alex Holloway - [email protected]


Mississippi State University welcomed representatives from Facebook's cybersecurity team to campus Thursday to highlight a new partnership with the tech giant. 


MSU is a new partner in Facebook's Cybersec University Sponsorship program, through which the university can offer CodePath classes to teach students about cybersecurity. 


Associate Professor of Computer Science and Engineering Byron Williams said MSU joined the program in July 2017. 


"Basically, what the program does is it allows us to teach a course that was developed by Facebook and a company called CodePath," Williams said. "This course provides our students with lots of hands-on training in software security. ...It's really just a great opportunity for hands-on experience with actual code and training that's relevant to Facebook cybersecurity and Facebook security engineers." 


MSU is one of eight universities across the country to be a part of the partnership with Facebook. 


Facebook InfoSec Program Manager Stephanie Siteman said the company wanted to reach out across the country to try to draw on a more diverse talent pool. 


"We want a representation of, really, the users who use our platform," she said. "Whether that's from the Midwest or the East Coast, from Harvard or a community college, we feel that's going to represent our community in a much better way." 


Siteman said the program also helps Facebook identify talent. But regardless of whether students move on to work with Facebook or at other tech companies, she said, the program grants them experience and exposure. 


In order to join the program, students have to take a software security engineering program that Williams teaches. 


"It's really a student-led course in terms of the material that's covered," Williams said. "But the idea is that yes, you take this course and it opens other opportunities such as internships with Facebook, scholarship opportunities to travel to conferences and really just to interact and have Facebook as a resource for the students who complete the program." 


Twenty-one MSU students completed the Cybersecurity Course 1.0 in the fall 2017 semester, Siteman said. Of those, two gained cybersecurity internships, 10 received Usenix Enigma and Facebook HQ Scholarships and six received Women in Cybersecurity Facebook Scholarships. 


"You guys actually had the highest class retention from week one all the way to week 12, so we were really super happy with that," Siteman said. 


Williams said the program exposes students to real-world issues, which should help them wherever they choose to go. 


"It's Facebook, and if you think about the magnitude of cybersecurity with Facebook -- there's 2.5 billion users that they're trying to protect," Williams said. "So any issue or any problem that they have that they're trying to solve is basically probably an issue that many other companies are going to have. 


"So if they come in and vouch for the material that we're teaching our students, it's going to be huge for our students, but it's also going to provide our students an opportunity to know what they need to know to defend companies like Facebook and other companies interested in cybersecurity," he added. 




Cybersecurity focus 


MSU has placed a growing emphasis on cybersecurity in recent years. In August, the university received a $3.11 million grant from the National Science Foundation to support its cybersecurity scholarship program. The National Security Administration and U.S. Department of Homeland Defense have also named the university a center of excellence for cyber research. 


Williams said the university is continuing to focus on the field. In the fall, MSU launched its cybersecurity master's program, and he said the university has everything prepared to launch a cybersecurity undergraduate program. 


That growing focus, Williams said, is increasingly important in a world that's growing ever more connected through the internet and other digital means. 


"Every time you turn on the news and hear that so many millions of people's information has been hacked, whether it's Equifax or Uber or whatever the company is, the idea is we really need to train developers to build code with security in mind, and to think about how to defend themselves against malicious attacks," Williams said. 


Siteman agreed cybersecurity will only grow more important as the technology continues to play a larger role in people's lives. She said a looming shortage of coders and cybersecurity experts makes it vital to try to train the next generation of cybersecurity professionals as well as possible. 


"It's so very important," she said. "That's one of the reasons we're undertaking this massive program. We're trying to be proactive."