Think of this as ROTC for security geeks. The U.S. government has started to award millions of dollars in scholarships to computer science students specializing in information assurance ensuring data and systems are secure, private and reliable. In return for the scholarship, recipients agree to work at a federal agency for two years. Congress allocated more than US$11 million for the Federal Cyber Service program last year and the same amount this year (at press time, the White House is requesting additional funding). Critics of the program say it's far too little to protect the country's vulnerable IT assets. Only 54 students received scholarships last year (this year's scholarship awards have yet to be announced), but some of the funding has also gone toward helping universities develop information assurance courses and train faculty to teach them. "Of course it's too little, and of course it's too late, but that doesn't mean you don't do it," says Andrew Bernat, the program director at the National Science Foundation in Arlington, Va., and head of the cyberservice program. "Maybe half your cows have escaped the barn, but does that mean you don't close the barn door? Of course not."
Preston Gillmore is one scholarship recipient. The 53-year-old IS manager is a master's candidate at the University of Tulsa, where he's studying computer forensics and security. He hopes the cyberservice program will open the door to better job opportunities. "It's a field where few people venture and where maybe the rewards would be a little higher," he says. Gillmore's wife, Julie Evans, is also in the cyberservice program and due to graduate next year.
Gillmore has every intention of staying with the federal government after his two-year commitment is up. Such loyalty will be one measure of the program's success, Bernat says. "My real measure of success will be that nothing bad happens," he says.
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