February 11, 2019

CGA Launches New MS in Global Security, Conflict, and Cybercrime

For nearly 15 years, CGA has focused on anticipating, analyzing, and forming solutions to pressing global challenges, and through its MSGA Concentration in Transnational Security has examined transnational crime, terrorism, and security threats as they relate to global affairs. Now, technology and globalization have altered war, from cyber, to nonlinear warfare, to unmanned and autonomous weapons, to terrorists’ use of social media, encryption, and the Dark Web.


In response to the changing landscape of global security issues, Divisional Dean Vera Jelinek and Academic Director Carolyn Kissane consulted with faculty and industry insiders to develop a full masters program examining these topics, and CGA is launching a MS in Global Security, Conflict, and Cybercrime (MSGSCC)in fall 2019.


Identifying Demand


Jelinek and Kissane knew that the impact of cyber technology was already being seen across the areas covered in the Global Affairs degree, with MSGA students keenly interested in opportunities to take more courses related to cyber crime and security. They assessed the current landscape in cyber-related graduate education and saw a gap, especially in the application of a truly global lens.


Kissane explained, “What is interesting is that cyber straddles so many of the areas we have emphasized at CGA - here we look at global affairs as ranging across borders and sectors. So we developed and thought of this new Masters in that way, knowing it wasn't going to be a technical program, or computer science oriented, and that would look at the role of government, private sector, and non-state actors, including how they can be proactive as well as reactive to cyber threats.”


Clinical Associate Professor Christopher Ankersen is a transnational security expert who currently teaches in the MSGA program and will also be teaching courses in the MS in Global Security, Conflict, and Cybercrime. He sees the potential to bring an innovative perspective to a rapidly-developing field: “The new degree builds on traditional approaches to security and extends them into the world of cybersecurity, filled with its own denizens--good and bad. It looks at how conflict and crime play out via the internet.  It is concerned not only with the technology behind this, but with the conceptual frameworks and policy responses that have been developed in order to better understand it.”


Specifically, technology--from smartphones to satellites to drones to nuclear missiles--plays a vital role in all conflict but Ankersen explains this is more nuanced than it seems: “For instance, communications networks allow nations to command and control military forces. They also allow terrorists to coordinate their operations.  Still further, they allow journalists to keep us informed about human rights abuses in far off locations, which in turn allows civil society groups to advocate for change, which might take the shape of armed intervention.”


Practitioners and Fieldwork


The creation of the new MSGSCC took over a year, with a lengthy period of review and approval by the NY State Education Department’s Office of College and University Evaluation. During this process, Kissane was encouraged by professionals working in the field. “When I heard practitioners talk about their excitement about what we are doing, I knew we were really onto something. It affirmed our decision to launch this MS, to hear such a positive response from people who on the front lines in cyber security,” she said.


As a former practitioner in the security field himself (most recently as Security Advisor for the United Nations system in Thailand), Ankersen also believes this “big picture” approach is particularly important, in light of the complexity of maintaining security today: “We are entering a period of turbulence, with security issues that span paradigms, from national security to human security, from hybrid security to interstate security, from sophisticated high-tech systems to old school, brute force tactics.”


Clinical Assistant Professor Mary Beth Altier, who heads the MSGA’s Concentration in Transnational Security agrees that “these are areas of critical importance where there is a noted lack of talent both in the private and public sector. Individuals often only have in-depth knowledge of cyber or of international affairs.” Today’s practitioners and prospective employers, she feels, will see great value in a degree such as this, which will offer both.


“We are witnessing a rise in great power conflict via subversive or irregular means. From Russian cyber-attacks on the DNC and disinformation campaigns, to China’s behavior in the South China Sea, to the involvement of Iranian proxies in places like Iraq, Yemen, and Syria, we are observing challenges to US hegemony and global power as well as the liberal world order. A rise in populism and a proliferation of fragile states are also playing a role.”

Mary Beth Altier, Clinical Assistant Professor

Has Anything Changed?


Has the proliferation of new technologies for storing and communicating data actually changed the nature of global security issues? While nations and non-state actors have stolen information and spread disinformation for as long as conflict has existed, the speed and reach of current technologies pose new challenges.


As Ankersen explains, “Security threats are promiscuous: they can no longer be contained to a single sector.  In fact, due in part to the interconnectivity of our world, issues that originate in one area or sector can spill over to other areas or sectors in the blink of an eye.  For instance, hate speech uttered in one corner of the globe can be responsible for violence on a different continent, all thanks to simultaneous communications facilitated by social networks.  We can see similar distributed security effects involving pathogens or malicious computer code. Security through containment is becoming increasingly futile.”


Altier, who researches terrorism and other forms of political violence, has found that while the nature of great power conflicts remains essentially the same, cyber technologies do pose new risks, and are “drastically altering the nature of war and challenging established norms.” Just as terrorists have found new recruitment opportunities in social media, encryptions, and the Dark Web, she says, “We are witnessing a rise in great power conflict via subversive or irregular means. From Russian cyber-attacks on the DNC and disinformation campaigns, to China’s behavior in the South China Sea, to the involvement of Iranian proxies in places like Iraq, Yemen, and Syria, we are observing challenges to US hegemony and global power as well as the liberal world order. A rise in populism and a proliferation of fragile states are also playing a role.”


The question is how states and the international community might respond to this: “Such challenges highlight the need for new norms regarding, for example, proportional and just responses to cyber-intrusions and the use of irregular warfare or proxies by state actors to seize territory for geopolitical influence.”


For students seeking a comprehensive focus on global security from the angle of cyber technologies, the new MS program will offer a seamless transition from theory to practice, and from the classroom to the field.


Altier adds that “the emphasis will be on how cyber is changing the dynamics of conflict, crime, and security. Students will be able to take courses on cybersecurity, cybercrime, cyberconflict and cyberwar, disinformation and influence operations, cyberlaw and cyberliberties, terrorists' use of social media and the Internet - to name a few.”


A Complement to the MSGA


While the new MS in Global Security, Conflict, and Cybercrime will have a very different focus than the MS in Global Affairs, the similar approaches to the topics - practitioner-focused and with a global lens - means that students enrolled in the MSGA degree will also find opportunities within the course offerings in the MSGSCC that enhance their research and work.


Kissane, who leads the MSGA Concentration in Environment and Energy Policy, sees the new Masters as complementing the existing program “because it will offer yet another opportunity for our students to tap into the scholar-practitioners who will be teaching in the new MS as well as the new coursework, which they will have access to. From my specific concentration, so much of the technology around energy is so critical.” She adds that courses such as Critical Infrastructure and Political Cyber Crime will let students “look at the role that cyber technology plays and will play in the energy and environmental space.”


The MS in Global Security, Conflict, and Cybercrime was conceived and developed over several years, but Kissane and the other faculty involved in its development foresee that time spent as being an investment in CGA’s capacity to fulfil its mission to educate a community to identify and respond to global challenges. While the nature of conflict and security itself may remain fundamentally unchanged, the ways in which cyber technologies have enabled conflict to escalate - and the opportunities it provides to manage global security - offer rich territory to examine in the new MS.


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