Skip to content
Phone 800-985-7215 800-985-7215
(888) 905 1161 (888) 905 1161

Dr. James Walden Sees Growth of Cybersecurity Program From Ground Up

NKU Cybersecurity faculty Dr. James Walden

When it comes to protecting online data, Northern Kentucky University professor James Walden stays ahead of the curve.

"I was always interested in cybersecurity, but there certainly weren't any courses or degrees in it — even when I was getting my Ph.D.," he said. "I was interested in computer security, but there wasn't anything there, so I did theoretical particle physics."

The Hamilton, Ohio, native followed his passion to a software engineering position at Intel in Hillsboro, Oregon, for five years before becoming an educator.

"I realized the two things I liked most at Intel were the research and teaching aspects of my job," Dr. Walden said. "People were starting to become interested in teaching cybersecurity, so I decided to change gears and go into that. I got a visiting assistant professorship at the University of Toledo."

Now in his 16th year at NKU, Dr. Walden is the proud creator of the school's cybersecurity program, which includes a bachelor's degree, a master's degree and the online Cybersecurity: Fundamentals in the Cloud program. He is one of five full-time faculty members in the program.

"It was a combination of the location and NKU's new College of Informatics, which had a broader view of computer science and related fields than the University of Toledo, which still has the one security class I created," he said.

"It's been a lot of fun. There was one security course when I started at NKU. I have lost count of how many there are now, maybe a few dozen."

Safe and Sound

Dr. Walden graduated with a bachelor's degree from the University of Miami (Ohio) in 1992. He added a master's degree ('94) and a doctorate ('97) from Carnegie-Mellon University.

"When I was a grad student, I was running the web server for the department," he said. "I was looking at some of the code for a simple web application we had back in the 1990s, and I realized if I did this little thing, I could run code on our servers and so could anybody on the internet.

"None of the programmers ever seemed to have thought about security when they were putting this old software on the network. That's a process we have continued today with things like your smart TV, thermostat and car, none of which were ever designed to be networked."

Since coming to NKU in 2005 as an assistant professor of computer science, Dr. Walden has held several positions. He is in his second stint as director of the university's Center for Information Security. He is also a recognized cybersecurity researcher.

"I was the first director until I went on sabbatical. I enjoyed it, although it was a little nerve-wracking at first with the pandemic." he said.

"Plus, we recently hosted our annual cybersecurity symposium, which we have done every year since 2007. It was a virtual event this year because of COVID-19."

The cybersecurity program began offering master's courses in Fall 2021, with the launch of the full program set for January 2022. Dr. Walden loves seeing the cybersecurity department grow rapidly, with student interest in the vital field holding steady.

"We previously had the track at the undergrad level," he said. "We started our bachelor of cybersecurity in 2020 with 16 students in the first semester. A year later, we have 81 students."

Head in the Cloud

Although teaching is a second career for Dr. Walden, he can't imagine doing anything else, anywhere other than NKU. He enjoys seeing the light come on for students.

"It's always fun seeing a student grasp a new security problem," he said. "At first, most programmers and some administrators look at things and say, 'It's supposed to work like this.' Then, you look deeper and see how things interact and realize there's a big security hole."

Dr. Walden, who spent one year as a visiting professor in Belgium during his time away from NKU, loves the constant challenge teaching cybersecurity provides.

"It is a very different field to teach than something like, say, math," he said. "Calculus came out in the 1600s — and we are still teaching it. If you don't update a cybersecurity course each year, you are quickly going to be telling people how to do things insecurely.

"There are some core principles, but the specific examples sometimes come out of left field, like when Bitcoin became popular, ransomware became extremely profitable. No one was expecting that."

Even when Dr. Walden is away from work, he remains engaged with security issues when he's not hiking or reading science fiction books in his free time.

"I adopted two Bengal cats during the pandemic," he said. "One of them has a security touch — he's figured out how to open the cabinets and doors and how to use the light switch."

Learn more about NKU's online Cybersecurity: Fundamentals in the Cloud program.

Have a question or concern about this article? Please contact us.

Request Information
*All fields required.
or call 800-985-7215 800-985-7215
By submitting this form, I am providing my digital signature agreeing that Northern Kentucky University (NKU) may email me or contact me regarding educational services by telephone and/or text message utilizing automated technology or a pre-recorded message at the telephone number(s) provided above. I understand this consent is not a condition to attend NKU or to purchase any other goods or services.