Files encrypted for ransom.

Bank accounts drained.

Identities stolen.

Those are just some of the intrusions that affect life in the digital age and now Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College is offering a new program to teach students how to protect such against cyberthreats.

The new information technology program, cybersecurity specialist, trains students on how to detect, protect and defend against attacks to digital information.

The two-year, associate degree program will be taught in its entirety at the New Richmond and Rice Lake campuses and the first year is available in Superior and Ashland.

This could change if enrollment increases at the Superior and Ashland campuses, said Nancy Cerritos, dean of academic programs. She said the Superior and Ashland campuses do not have sufficient enrollment at this time to offer both years.

Cybersecurity is the practice of protecting systems, networks and programs from digital attacks, and the demand for cybersecurity jobs is at an all-time high.

According to Forbes, cybersecurity is the job sector of the future, with about a half-million cybersecurity jobs open in the U.S. alone.

“It’s second only to nursing,” said Mike Miller, an IT instructor at WITC. “You can pretty much throw a dart at the map anywhere you want and get a pretty good job.”

Throughout the state, the median starting wage for a cybersecurity professional is $37.92 per hour.

Daniel Schaff, a 2005 WITC graduate from the IT program, worked for global security software company McAfee for 13 years and is currently senior enterprise sales engineer for a next-generation cybersecurity technology company, Crowdstrike.

Schaff said those that work in cybersecurity can eventually make salaries upward of $100,000 per year, and there is a wide variety of positions in the field.

“If you have the skills for IT and want a job, this is the perfect occupation for you,” Schaff said. “The topic of cybersecurity is so broad that it’s easy to find a focus that interests you. Cybersecurity touches every aspect of our lives and the world we live in.”

Students in this program will be immersed in an IT ecosystem and learn how to secure an organization’s desktops, servers, networks and applications to support a thriving business.

“Cybersecurity is becoming an integral part of every business operation including retail, online, internet provider, education and health care,” said Greg Brodt, IT instructor at WITC.

The program gives students hands-on experience with networking, operation systems, virtualization and security. Students will build an IT base as they install and configure Windows and Linux environments and create networks for a business-like environment.

Studying attacks and security practices will help students learn to protect data for businesses like formatting security settings.

The first year of the program is the same as the IT systems administration specialist program, Cerritos said. She said that gives students an option to get both degrees with only one more year of education. Taking the programs simultaneously could create a time crunch, she said.

“Technology in the world today is there to help facilitate business, keep us in touch with friends and family, and make our lives safer and better,” Schaff said. “Unfortunately, there are threat actors out there that for many reasons, want to disrupt how we use these technologies to connect and even worse, use them against us.”

The number of cyberattacks on businesses around the globe grows each year and cybersecurity professionals are on the front lines planning, implementing and recovering from these types of attacks every day.

Schaff said 10-15 years ago, cybersecurity was almost an afterthought, managed by administrators whose primary focus was not on protecting networks and hosts, but to make sure the systems were working. In today’s world, threats and actors are more technologically advanced and organizations need to have a security plan implemented, he said.

“There has been an explosion in the types and ways attacks can happen and for each one of these, a business must assess if they are going to accept, transfer or remediate the risks,” Schaff said. He said organizations realize with laws like General Data Protection Regulation, they can no longer take the approach of ignoring the risks.

To learn more about the IT-cybersecurity specialist program, go to witc.edu/cybersecurity or call 800-243-9482.