Helge, you're Head of the Software Technology Research Laboratory at De Montfort University. Tell us a bit about your role – what does your day-to-day routine look like?
It is busy. Part of my role is looking at developing strategic partnerships with other research organisations and industries to make sure that our research has impact and is creating a maximum effect. Then there are the day to day activities of running a lab with twenty researchers and over 60 PhD students and making sure that there is sufficient funding to sustain them. A great thing is actually still getting a little time to do some research, working on exciting projects as well as staying in touch with our Master students, teaching them or supervising their projects.De Montfort has recently introduced the UK's first Cyber Technology MSc. Tell us a bit about the course's structure and content.
This is a very special course that is supported by global players in the industry. The course gives students and their employers the chance of tailoring the education to their individual or corporate needs. Practically this means that we are offering a large number of modules from the Cyber Security, Digital Forensics and Software Engineering domains with some additional Management modules in between. Depending on the modules students then obtain a degree in Cyber Security, Digital Forensics, Software Engineering or combinations.
All modules are delivered in a block, so the actual time is condensed into a week-long session in which students and their lecturers work closely together through the concepts and cement their skills through practical and challenging exercises. This of course is great for students that study part time or that are part of a graduate programme in industry.
To make sure that the course up to date and is meeting the current needs we partnered with global companies such as Airbus Group, Deloitte, Rolls-Royce and BT who are advising on the content, deliver guest lectures and also work with us regularly to enhance the programme through industry placements or projects. This level of support from industry is quite unique.
What key knowledge and skills can students expect to gain by the end of the Cyber Technology MSc?
This clearly depends on the pathway that students choose to take, but there is a focus on Cyber Security topics. On the Digital Forensic side, we also provide certification courses and work with external providers to equip students with all the skills needed to become expert witnesses. All of our students will learn about the ongoing research in the area, as almost all lecturers delivering the programme are research active or provide consultancy services. Of course to encourage our students and equip them for their bright future, we require all of them to study research methods and the ethical and legal aspects of cyber space — something we are very passionate about.
The Cyber Technology MSc also has a Management component, which helps students to understand how to manage people and projects. Why is this so important for a technology degree, and what does it cover?
Yes, indeed — many security problems arise from organisational issues and we feel that our students must understand how large corporates operate. This enables them to understand the context in which systems are being developed, the assets that need to be secured, as well as the environment in which an incident response is taking place. We teamed up with our renowned Business and Law Faculty to provide students with the organisational context and also offer a module on Agile Project Management which is becoming more and more popular in today’s software development.
What other digital forensics courses are offered at De Montfort?
We also offer the MSc Forensic Computing for Practitioners, which is specifically designed for police and other agencies and run by Profs. Tony Sammes and Brian Jenkinson. The MSc Professional Practice in Digital Forensics and Security is a collaborative provision with 7Safe, Cambridge for those students mainly interested in professional certifications. On the undergraduate programmes we run a BSc Forensic Computing degree programme that is popular for its industry placement and high-profile guest lecture series.
In your opinion, what is the most common misconception held by new students of digital forensics?
There still is some of the CSI effect; some students believe it is all shiny tools and easy. It actually is a very demanding specialisation of computer science with deeply technical aspects and much higher demands on students’ professionalism and integrity than is expected in other courses. So it is cool, a bit geeky — and quite hard work that usually leads to an excellent job.
Do you have any words of advice for students who want to make sure they stand out to future employers?
To stand out you need to achieve. We try to offer our students lots of opportunities to do so, for example through participation and organisation of cyber challenges, our work with Cyber Security Challenge UK, industry placements and projects as well as regular competitions and work with our #DMULocal and #DMUGlobal initiatives. Passing modules is really only a part of your education — a lot of “the standing out” comes from your enthusiasm and own initiative.
Finally, when you're not teaching or researching, what do you do in your spare time?
Swimming and getting out and about with my wonderful family.
De Montfort University's new Masters programme in Cyber Security is a new course offered by the university; you can find out more, order a prospectus or book an open day here.