Security Certificates (NSA) | College of Information Sciences and Technology
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Security Certificates (NSA)

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As part of Penn State and the College of IST’s designation as a national Center of Academic Excellence (CAE) in Information Assurance and Cyber-Defense Education by the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security, we are authorized to grant the following certificate of achievement and letter of recognition to graduating students:

LETTER of Recognition

This letter is earned by any student who graduates with a major or minor in SRA, or from the IST MPS programs. It states that the recipient of the certificate earned their degree from an institution and program recognized as a CAE in IA/CD by NSA and DHS.

Certificate of Achievement

This certificate may be earned by any student enrolled in ISTBS, SRA, SRAAL, SRABL or SRACA who has taken all of the courses required as ‘knowledge units’ for the CAE certification, and earned a grade of C or better in each. No Course subsitutions will be permitted. This certificate is a requirement of the new CAE designation. The former CNSS 4011 Certificate of Achievement has been discontinued by the U.S. government.

The value of the credential

The value of the certifciate of achievement and letter of recognition are in what it certifies. In both cases they certify that the student graduated from an institution and program whose faculty, resources, curricula, and commitment were evaluated and found to be of high quality. Both also certify that certain courses in the student’s program have been examined and determined to meet or exceed the quality and content as defined by NSA/DHS for cyber security professionals. The CAE KU Certificate further certifies that the student has taken all of the courses that satisfy the Knowledge Units requirement.

Important for the student

Do not rely on a prospective employer being familiar with these credentials. Employers who are part of the US federal government, or who do work with the federal government will know about them. But it is very important that the student be able to explain what each certifies and why this is important to the employer. Be sure to explain that Penn State, the SRA program, and IST MPS are recognized by CNSS (via NSA and DHS) as a Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance and Cyber Defense.

Some history

In 2008, Penn State University was designated a Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance by the NSA, in its managing role for the Committee on National Security Systems (CNSS). This designation came after a thorough examination of the Security and Risk Analysis major, and  mapping of SRA/IST courses to criteria set by NSA. This designation, while in effect, allowed us to provide SRA graduates with CNSS 4011 (Information Assurance) certification. That designation was set to expire at the end of 2013. 

In 2011, in anticipation of the need for re-certification of CAE institutions, NSA and DHS began a lengthy process of re-thinking the certifications and re-developing the CAE designation. Meetings were held with current CAE institutions at a number of locations during 2011 and 2012. In late 2013, the new procedures for CAE designation were established. After another in-depth examination, this time with new requirements, Penn State and the College of IST were re-certified as a CAE in Information Assurance and Cyber Defense during summer, 2014. 

The new CAE procedures examined Penn State security policy and staffing, College of IST security faculty, ongoing security-related research, student participation in professional clubs and security competitions, and outreach to community colleges and the public at large. The new procedures also defined 17 required and 5 optional curricular areas referred to as ‘knowledge units.’

These are:

  • Basic Data Analysis
  • Basic Scripting
  • Cyber Defense 
  • Cyber Threats 
  • Fundamental Security Design Principles 
  • IA Fundamentals
  • Intro to Cryptography
  • IT System Components
  • Networking Concepts
  • Policy, Legal, Ethics and Compliance
  • Systems Administration
  • Databases 
  • Network Technology and Protocols
  • Network Defense
  • Probability and Statistics
  • Programming
  • Operating Systems Concepts
  • Database Management Systems
  • Cybersecurity Planning and Management 
  • Digital Forensics
  • IA Standards
  • Security Risk Analysis

For each knowledge unit, a set of required topics/skills and outcomes were defined.  These had to be mapped to the current SRA curriculum, and detailed evidence provided to support the mapping.

The following IST/SRA courses contributed to the mapping:

  • IST 210, 220, 451, 454, 456
  • IST 140 or CompSci 101
  • SRA 111, 221
  • Stat 200

The Penn State/IST designation as a CAE in IA/CD was effective Summer 2014 and lasts until December 2021. The CNSS 4011-4016 certificates have been discontinued (by CNSS) effective December 31, 2014.


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