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The University of Alabama

UA to Launch Interdisciplinary Cyber Crime Minor

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The demand for cyber professionals doesn’t look to be slowing down. The Pentagon and Congress announced March 5 the approval to hire 3,000 civilian cyber experts, in part because of growing cyber security threats and the struggle by Cyber Command to keep up.

And, it’s not just the Pentagon that needs to beef up its cyber security personnel. More than $16 billion was lost in 2014 due to data breaches at major retail chains.

The University of Alabama’s department of criminal justice will help staff future workforces in the burgeoning field following the announcement of a new cyber crime minor. The 18-credit hour minor will begin in Fall 2015 and will include classes within the department, computer science, psychology and accounting.

The minor was approved by the UA Board of Trustees at its February meeting.

“Currently there’s a disconnect between criminal justice and the broader social sciences, and computer science and information technology. Our degree program is aimed at bridging that gap,” said Dr. Diana Dolliver, assistant professor of criminal justice at UA. “We’re providing one of the first such programs in the country that’s housed in a social sciences department.”

Dolliver said that while having the technical skills to help thwart cyber attacks or process digital forensic evidence is valuable, having a combination of technical ability and an understanding of criminal motivations makes employees more effective and more marketable.

“Programming computers is much different from understanding the people who use them,” Dolliver said. “Now, law enforcement agencies are also recognizing this discrepancy. Federal investigators are currently recruiting candidates with both social science and tech backgrounds.”

While the number of Internet users continues to grow, particularly internationally, the number of reported cyber crimes doesn’t. Roughly 1 percent of cyber crimes are reported to law enforcement worldwide, according to the a 2013 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

“We have a huge under-reporting problem in addition to a lack of proper legal structure in many countries for effectively addressing electronic-based crimes,” Dolliver said.

Dr. Lesley Reid, chair of the department, said the department has two cyber researchers — Dolliver and Dr. Kathryn Seigfried-Spellar — and looks to add an associate professor in the area in the fall.

Seigfried-Spellar was awarded a grant in partnership with UAPD to create a digital forensics task force with local law enforcement agencies to process electronic evidence on campus. The lab currently has six interns.

“This is such a burgeoning area, not just in defense, but in commerce,” Reid said. “The goal is to attract students in other majors, like business and computer science. Understanding motivations, risk-taking behavior — that’s the things social scientists study, and this is just a new arena in which to do it.”

UA’s department of criminal justice is part of the College of Arts and Sciences, the University’s largest division and the largest liberal arts college in the state. Students from the College have won numerous national awards including Rhodes Scholarships and Goldwater Scholarships.

The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.